Cholesterol – a word most have heard at some point or another, and usually not in an incredibly positive light. This waxy, fat-like substance that is found naturally in all the cells that make up our body. Our body produces all the cholesterol’s it needs to build healthy cells. Cholesterol is needed to produce hormones, vitamin D, and bile acids that aid digestion. It plays an important role in our body but, as with most things, too much of a good thing can be bad. An excess of LDL (“bad”) cholesterol causes a fatty build up in our arteries, this has a negative effect on our health, especially for our heart as it increases the risk of heart disease.
My father suffers from high cholesterol. I grew up wishing he never had problems with high cholesterol because the prescribed medication he took made him extremely moody and had some serious negative side-effects. He has now found a natural approach to manage his levels and has changed his diet to limit his intake of foods that increase his “bad” cholesterol and has opted for foods that help eradicate the problem. This article will help you implement a natural approach by taking you through what foods to avoid with high cholesterol.
Cholesterol is carried around the body through the blood by lipoproteins (the molecule that is created when cholesterol and proteins combine). There are two main kinds of lipoproteins, namely:
High-density lipoprotein (HDL): Also known as “good” cholesterol, these are the lipoproteins that carry excess cholesterol away from the arteries and back to the liver. It is in the liver where cholesterol is broken down.
Low-density lipoprotein (LDL): Also known as “bad” cholesterol. The lipoproteins carry the cholesterol particles throughout the body, but it is the LDL that is responsible for cholesterol build up in the artery walls that makes them hard and narrow.
High LDL cholesterol and low HDL cholesterol is caused by obesity, an unhealthy diet, and lack of exercise or inactivity. Unfortunately, genetics may also set you back for high cholesterol levels since our genetic makeup may prevent our cells from moving LDL cholesterol from our blood efficiently. Genetics may also influence our liver to produce too much cholesterol.
It is important to have good cholesterol or HDL because it may offer some protection against heart disease. This is because HDL cholesterol helps remove LDL cholesterol when it is in excess, this stops it from collecting in the lining of your arteries. When LDL cholesterol builds up in our arteries it causes them to become hard and narrow which can lead to a heart attack or a stroke. Studies have also shown that HDL can act as an antioxidant and helps keep LDL cholesterol from being attacked by the free radicals in our body which makes the LDL more harmful.
Change of diet
One of the risk factors that influences cholesterol levels is a poor diet. Consuming saturated fat (those fats found in animal products), trans fats (found in commercial food products such as crackers and microwave popcorn), and cholesterol foods can increase your cholesterol levels. When being confronted with these foods, red flags should be going up. A change in diet can help manage your cholesterol. Here are some foods you should avoid with high cholesterol:
1. Processed meat
Sausages, bacon, cold cuts, and hot dogs are all examples of processed meat that are high in saturated fats. They are high-cholesterol foods and their intake should be limited. A recent study that included over 614,000 participants showed that each additional 50-gram serving of processed meat a day was linked to a 42% increased risk of heart disease. High consumption of processed meats has also been linked to certain cancers such as colon cancer.
2. Whole-fat dairy products
Consuming whole-fat dairy products can have negative health effects because they increase LDL cholesterol levels. This is because they are high in saturated fatty acids and cholesterol. Studies have shown that there is a strong correlation between the consumption of dairy fat and coronary heart disease.
3. Red meat and organ meats
Only animal products contain cholesterol because a liver is needed to produce cholesterol in the body. Red meats such as beef, lamb, and pork have a higher concentration of saturated fat than white meats such as chicken and fish. The saturated fatty acids in red meat and organ meats, together with the cholesterol, raise the amount of large LDL cholesterol particles and increase your risk of heart disease.
4. Saturated vegetable oils
Healthy fats are needed in our diet because they are vitally important for good health. “Bad” fats exist in our foods too and need to be limited to prevent negative effects on our health. Saturated vegetable oils, such as palm oil and coconut oil need to be consumed within limits if they cannot be avoided. The higher the saturated fat content, the more solid the oil is at room temperature. Coconut oil and kernel oil are approximately 85% saturated fat. Although they have been shown to have some health benefits, the high levels of saturated fatty acids are linked to an increase in LDL cholesterol levels and heart disease. Highly processed coconut oil raises cholesterol levels significantly when exposed to high temperatures, so much that scientists are using it as a medium when experimenting on different fats.
5. Fried Foods
Do you enjoy deep-fried foods that are a common take-away food or served at restaurants? I enjoy French fries and fried chicken strips, but at what cost to my body? Fried foods are high in calories and trans fats. Trans fats are the result of unsaturated fats undergoing the process of hydrogenation. This process changes the chemical structure of fats and makes it difficult for your body to break down. Trans fats are associated with various negative health conditions, including cancer, diabetes, heart disease, and obesity. Remember, obesity is a risk factor for high levels of cholesterol. Trans fats also increase your LDL cholesterol levels and lower your good HDL levels, thus putting you at risk for a heart attack or stroke.
This may be a really difficult one to avoid, I know it is for me. Sweets and treats are not completely off-limits if you monitor what you are eating. Desserts that have high-fat content such as those that have creamy whipped toppings, or heavy butter cookies are the ones to avoid. They contain saturated fatty acids that elevate your LDL cholesterol levels. Saturated fatty acids in excess cause heart disease, sluggish circulation, and kidney problems.
Commercially baked desserts should be avoided altogether. That includes cupcakes, certain cookies, and some cakes because they will be filled with trans fats and will negatively affect your cholesterol by raising LDL levels and lowering your HDL levels.
What ‘helpful’ foods can I eat?
It is especially important to not exclude all fat when making your dietary amendments. A completely fat-free diet can be harmful to your health and will deplete the levels of your carbohydrates, increase inflammation, and impair the normal functioning of your nerves and brain. There are helpful fats, such as those foods rich in monounsaturated fatty acids, that will increase your good cholesterol levels. You can also explore the following to help maintain your cholesterol and possibly eradicate any problems with your cholesterol levels:
1. Niacin: This is a B-Vitamin that doctors sometimes suggest for patients with high cholesterol. It increases your HDL levels and reduces triglycerides (another fat that clogs the arteries). Niacin can be taken in supplement form or found in chicken.
2. Psyllium Supplements: Psyllium is a fiber that is made from the husks of seeds from the Plantago ovata plant. It can be taken in tablet form or mixed into food or drinks. Studies have shown that taking this fiber daily improves cholesterol levels, but remember, always consult your doctor before taking any supplements: even if they are natural.
3. Phytosterols: Phytosterols are waxes that are derived from plants. They help lower cholesterol levels because they prevent the intestines from absorbing cholesterol. They are found naturally in whole grains, fruits, vegetables, and nuts.
4. Soy Protein: Soybeans, soy milk, and steamed soybeans are a great source of lean protein and can assist with lowering LDL cholesterol levels.
A well-balanced ending
It is important to manage your cholesterol, especially if your genetics for well-maintained levels are not in your favor. High cholesterol is dangerous and causes an accumulation of cholesterol and other deposits in the walls of your arteries, this is known as atherosclerosis. The deposits, or plaques, can cause a reduction in blood flow through the arteries which create complications such as chest pain, heart attack, and stroke. It is best to keep a watchful eye on your levels of both good and bad cholesterol.
We have all heard of the saying, “prevention is better than cure”. If you want to prevent complications associated with disturbed cholesterol levels then eat a low-salt diet, limit your intake of animal fats, maintain a healthy weight, manage your stress, and try to incorporate daily exercise. If you are already suffering from high cholesterol levels, then try our guide on what foods to avoid so that your condition is not aggravated any further.
Until next time