How to Keep Cholesterol Level in Healthy Range

In this article we will go over the best ways to keep your cholesterol levels in healthy range with diet and lifestyle changes.

What is Cholesterol?

Cholesterol is a type of fat, also known as a lipid. It is produced by our bodies, consumed in the foods we eat, and found in every cell. While cholesterol gets a bad rap for being linked to conditions like heart attack and stroke, healthy levels of cholesterol are necessary for the body to function properly. This is because our body needs cholesterol to make steroid hormones such as estrogen and testosterone, vitamin D, and bile acid. In addition, cholesterol is an essential building block of cell wall structures.

Our liver produces 75% of the cholesterol found in our bloodstream and 25% comes from our diet. However, these two factors are not the only ones that can influence whether we have high cholesterol levels. Genetics also play a role, those who have hypercholesterolemia in their family are more likely to have higher cholesterol.

In order for the lipids to be transported through the blood, they need to be attached to the proteins. This structure of lipid and protein is called a lipoprotein. There are five categories of lipoproteins that are found in our bodies, HDL, IDL, LDL, VLDL, and chylomicrons.

The most noted lipoprotein is the HDL, known as the “good cholesterol” and the LDL, known as the “bad cholesterol.” The ideal level of total cholesterol, which is HDL and LDL combined, is under 200mg/dL.

HDL

High-density lipoprotein or “good cholesterol” plays an important role in our body and functions to clear out cholesterol. This is why a higher HDL count of above 60 (mg/dL), is beneficial for our health.

HDL transports triglycerides, phospholipids, and cholesterol that are found in our cells to the liver so they can be broken down and eliminated. A higher concentration of HDL results from a healthy diet and usually represents a lower risk of atherosclerosis and healthier blood vessels.

When it comes to diet, high fiber, low sugar, high monounsaturated fats, low saturated fats foods are key. For example, high fiber carbohydrates such as oats help indirectly raise your HDL by lowering the total cholesterol. In addition, those tasty green avocados are one of the best and most delicious sources of monounsaturated fat and fibers that help increase the HDL.

Other food sources linked to higher levels of HDL include olives and olive oil, tree nuts, such as hazelnuts, cashews, walnuts, almonds, pecans, fish such as salmon, tuna, cod, flax seeds, and whole grains foods.

A study by Dr. Siri-Tarino has shown that a high sugar diet is associated with a decrease of HDL. Also, around a 5% raise of HDL has been observed on those who lost moderate weight and followed a diet rich in omega-3 fatty acids.

Another study proved that a replacing saturated fats with monounsaturated fats is related to a lower risk of coronary heart disease by raising the HDL cholesterol and lowering the LDL cholesterol plasma levels.

LDL

Low-density lipoprotein or “bad cholesterol” plays a role in transporting phospholipids, triglycerides, and cholesterol around the body. Too much LDL increases our risk for atherosclerosis because LDL is able to carry cholesterol into smaller vessels where it can get stuck. Atherosclerosis, which is plaque formation in the vessels is linked to conditions like heart attack, stroke, and Alzheimer’s. However, it is now proven that high cholesterol alone does not increase risk for such co-morbidities. Rather elevated cholesterol in the presence of massive inflammation or toxins, as seen with modern day lifestyles, is what poses the risk.

A higher concentration of LDL results from a poor diet and lower activity levels. For people with hypertension and diabetes it is especially crucial to monitor the levels of LDL and keep them in a healthy range. Aiming to keep LDL less than 120 (mg/dL) with the help of a healthy diet and exercise is ideal to lose weight and maintain clean blood vessels.

Few common foods that raise the LDL levels are fatty meats like beef, lamb, pork, poultry with skin, sausage, bacon, cheese, saturated vegetable oils such as palm oil, coconut oil, and kernel oil.

The most harmful fats developed through a high-heat preparation are trans fats. Trans fats raise the LDL, lower HDL, and are a category of foods that needs to be limited or better eliminated from our daily diet.

A few examples of trans fats foods are bakery goods that contain shortening or margarine, fried foods, potato chips, crackers, packaged frosting, cookies, cakes, donuts, pastries, buttered popcorn and any products that have in their consistency partially hydrogenated oils.

Atherosclerosis

When a plaque builds up inside the arteries, the vessels that carry oxygen-rich blood to your heart, it is called atherosclerosis. The main substance of this plaque is cholesterol and over time, as the diameter of the vessels narrow due to increased plaque, it gets difficult for the blood to get to the heart and other organs.

Atherosclerosis, thus, can lead to serious problems like heart attack, stroke, and even death. The most dangerous fact that can lead to these outcomes is that the patient can be asymptomatic and the issue is observed only after a heart attack or stroke.

Atherosclerosis is a disease that develops over times and certain factors hasten its appearance such as

  • Smoking
  • High blood cholesterol
  • High blood pressure
  • High glycemic levels due to diabetes or insulin resistance
  • High carbohydrate, high sugar diets
  • Inflammation in the body

Better prevent than cure

   Let’s looks at some ways in which we can keep a normal level of cholesterol level with natural methods such as diet and exercise.

Diet

A lower level of LDL can be attained through healthy diet choices. Vegetarian diets are often considered for those who don’t mind giving up meat as meat products are a big cause of elevated LDL. However, going vegetarian does not necessarily mean your cholesterol will improve if your diet is too high in carbohydrates and unhealthy fats. Several studies have proven that a vegetarian diet that is high-carbohydrate and low-fat will raise triglycerides levels, lower the HDL, and convert the LDL lipoproteins in smaller particles.

A more practical and widely studied meal plan for lowering cholesterol is the Mediterranean diet. A study by Ancel Keys on 1,770 inhabitants of Mediterranean countries discovered that the mortality rates from heart disease were 2 to 3 times lower than in the USA or Northern Europe.

   The main ingredients are:

  • Vegetables: cucumbers, tomatoes, broccoli, spinach, kale, cauliflower, carrots, onions, Brussels sprouts, etc.
  • Fruits: strawberries, grapes, dates, apples, bananas, oranges, melons, peaches, pears etc.
  • Legumes: beans, lentils, peas, chickpeas, pulses, etc.
  • Nuts and seeds: almonds, cashews, sunflower seeds, macadamia nuts, walnuts, pumpkin seeds, etc.
  • Tubers: potatoes, turnips, yams, sweet potatoes, etc.
  • Whole grains: whole grain bread and pasta, oats, brown rice, buckwheat, whole wheat rye, barley, and corn.
  • Fish and seafood: salmon, tuna, shrimp, oysters, clams, sardines, crab, etc.
  • Poultry: chicken, duck, turkey, etc.
  • Eggs: chicken, quail and duck eggs
  • Dairy: Greek yogurt, cheese, etc.
  • healthy fats: olive oil, avocado, olives, and avocado oil
  • Herbs and spices: garlic, basil, mint, rosemary, pepper, cinnamon, nutmeg, etc.
  • Their go-to beverage is water, but the diet includes also moderate amounts of red wine like 1 glass per day

Exercise

As we already know, nutrition and exercise go hand in hand and produce better results together than from just diet alone. Exercise can raise the HDL levels and lower LDL levels, as well as improve your vascular system.

One study found that adding a regular exercise to a low-fat diet in obese patients produced a 13% increase in HDL cholesterol.

Another study on non-obese patients with high cholesterol found that adding 10 miles of walking or jogging per week to diet changes, produced a decrease in LDL cholesterol levels between 14% and 20%.

Phytosterols

There is a compound found in plants and is very similar to cholesterol structure called phytosterols. These phytosterols are found naturally in plants such as sunflower seeds, soybean, and corn.

It has been discovered that when ingesting large quantities of phytosterols, their ingestion interferes with cholesterol absorption. This is because phytosterols and cholesterol compete for inclusion in mixed micelles, a necessary step for cholesterol absorption and due to these processes. Thus, when we include these food in our diet we will often see cholesterol serum levels decline.

Fiber

By including 10 to 30g of soluble fiber into the diet, it has been shown that a 10% reduction in LDL cholesterol can be achieved. While the HDL and triglycerides levels remain the same. This gives us another reason to integrate into our diet high fiber foods like beans, oats, lentils, chickpeas, avocado, sweet potato, broccoli, etc.

Fish oil and Omega 3

  A diet rich in omega-3 fatty acids, which are found in fish, nuts, olive oil, soy, and seeds, is linked to higher HDL, lower LDL, and lower triglycerides. By depressing the synthesis of triglycerides in the liver, omega 3 fatty acids lower plasma very low-density lipoproteins (VLDL) and triglycerides concentrations.     

Eating around 2-3 fish or shellfish meals per week will prevent the appearance of coronary disease. Fish that are rich in omega-3 fatty acids are salmon, anchovies, sardines, herring, and mackerel. For those who don’t eat fish, it is recommended to supplement the diet with 2 to 3 g of 30% concentrate fish oils or eat other foods that have high omega 3 content such as avocados and seeds.

Several studies have proven the benefits of fish and fish oil. In one study, 2,033 men were divided into 3 groups; a low-fat diet, a high-fiber diet, and a 200 to 400g of fish per week diet. In the fish diet group, after two years, there was a 29% reduction in mortality vs the other 2 groups. The study went further and discovered the fact that those who chose to use fish oil tablets (900 mg of omega-3 per day) rather than eating fish, had an even larger reduction of 62%. In addition to the lipid-lowering effects, fish oil has anti-inflammatory, antithrombotic, and antiarrhythmic proprieties.

In the another study, 11,324 Italians who had recent heart attacks were divided into 4 groups. The first group had 850mg of omega-3 fatty acids per day, the second group had 300mg of vitamin E per day, the third group didn’t have any and the last group had both. After 3.5 years, the first group had a significant 45% reduction in sudden death and 20% in total mortality.

Reinforcing the benefits of omega-3 fatty acids, these subjects had also foods in their diets that are found in the Mediterranean diet.

Conclusion

A healthy body, mind, and overall lifestyle is very possible with a few simple adjustments. We can improve the quality of our lives and lower cholesterol by consuming a healthy diet rich in omega-3 healthy fats, low in sat and trans fat, full of fibers, phytosterols, and by exercising every day.

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