Cholesterol – Do you have FAT blood?

Written by Bridget on . Posted in Food and Health Education

This is an issue that came up consistently for clients, friends and family this month; Cholesterol, and how to reduce it naturally.

So what is cholesterol and why is it important to know about yours?

Cholesterol is a fatty substance found in our blood. Some is essential and has many important uses. It is needed to make hormones and Vitamin D in the body, for example, BUT, we only need a TINY amount! Too much greatly increases the risk of HEART DISEASE.

In the past 6 weeks I have had 2 family members approach me for advice re reducing their cholesterol levels. This has followed a visit to their GP where they had some blood tests done and were consequently told their cholesterol levels were too high. They were then prescribed some cholesterol lowering medication (e.g. Lipitor) which they were VERY unhappy about. Knowing that I could help, both of these family members approached me for advice.

My first step? I rang their doctors and explained I was a dietitian and could we please trial a dietary approach to reducing cholesterol before medication is to be commenced. I was fortunate both doctors agreed. One only giving me 1 month to get the levels down sufficiently.

So the challenge began! By coaching this particular family member intensively and following them up daily, we had awesome success!
We achieved the month deadline reducing cholesterol levels from 6.7 mmol/L to 5.5mmol/L! The doctor was very pleased and happy for us to continue WITHOUT medication! Fabulous! 🙂

So why should this matter to you? Well, currently in our society 51% of adults have a total cholesterol >5.5mmol/L, HOWEVER, only 1 in 5 is aware that they have high cholesterol!

What are the dangers of high cholesterol?

Recent calculations show that high cholesterol is responsible for almost 12% of all deaths in Australia. Heart, stroke and vascular disease kill more Australians than any other disease group- over 50, 000 deaths in 2002 (37.6% of all deaths). These are shocking stats, and to a large degree, HIGHLY unnecessary!

Why are our cholesterol levels so high?

A poor diet is the major contributor to high cholesterol in Australia. Saturated fats raise blood cholesterol levels, and many of the foods we consume on an all too regular basis, are high in saturated fats- meat, skin on chicken, full cream dairy products, biscuits, cakes, pastries, takeaway foods, packaged snack/convenience foods, the list goes on! Coupled with the trend that MANY of us do NOT get in our minimum 2 fruit and 5 veg, this makes for a nation with “fat blood”!

However, there are MANY tasty foods that have no effect on blood cholesterol levels, and some that actually help to lower levels, so there is a lot within our control that we can change! Even SIMPLE changes in diet can lower cholesterol levels.

Lowering our “bad” LDL cholesterol by just 10% through simple dietary changes, means that thousands of Australian lives could be saved every year!

How can you find out if you have high cholesterol?

Your doctor can arrange these tests for you. It is best to arrange fasting tests as these can give you a break down of total, good and bad cholesterol levels.

‘Good’ cholesterol clears the arteries helping to reduce the risk of heart disease- this should always be OVER 1 mmol/L.

‘Bad’ cholesterol can block the arteries, increasing the risk of heart disease. Ideally this should be under 4mmol/L.

How can you lower your cholesterol naturally?

Remembering that EVERYONE is different with a markedly different diet to the person next to them (remember even small differences can be significant), the best option is to get an INDIVIDUAL assessment and advice from a qualified Accredited Practicing Dietitian (APD)! Yes, I am one of these and CAN do assessments and provide advice over the phone 🙂

Aside from individual intervention, there are 3 major changes you can make to your diet for a healthier heart and lower cholesterol level.

1. More “healthy” fats, less “unhealthy” fats

Saturated and “trans” fats are the “unhealthy” fats that contribute to high cholesterol levels. By identifying these in your diet and replacing them with the more healthy mono- an poly-unsaturated fats, you can lower your cholesterol. Remember, if you are overweight and looking to lose weight ALL fats are equally “fattening” and ideally you would want to minimise and moderate ALL sources of fats. I work with all of my clients to optimise the type and quantity of fats in their diet as this is such an important factor for overall health and weight for everyone!

So where are the “unhealthy” fats?

Saturated fats are found in a wide variety of foods of mainly animal origin, such as butter, cream, cheese, other full fat dairy products, meats and meat products. Of course deep fried take-away and snack foods are also a source.

Two plant sources of saturated fats are palm and coconut oil. These are used in many packaged cakes, biscuits, pastries, crackers, and other convenience foods.
Coconut oil however, has a different and more favourable chemical composition than other saturated fats and has been shown to confer a number of health BENEFITS… Palm oil is the one to watch out for.

Trans fats are present in much smaller amounts in our food supply and by avoiding many of the packaged and convenience foods, you will minimise their intake anyway.

Reading nutrition information panels will help you to identify foods high in saturated fat. Ideally less than 10% of the TOTAL fat of a product should be saturated.

To summarise:

-omit butter, cream, cheese and other full-fat dairy products. Choose skim, or reduced fat milk, yoghurt or “calcium enriched” soy alternatives.
-trim ALL visible fat and skin from meats and chicken
-limit processed meats such as salami and sausages
-limit biscuits, cakes and pastries
-limit or omit deep-fried takeaways, potato crisps and other fatty snack foods

Choose “healthy fats”

Poly- and mono-unsaturated fats are found in abundance in most vegetable oils such as sunflower, canola, and olive oils, as well as in nuts, seeds and avocados. So instead of the afternoon choccie bar or biscuit, try a small handful of raw unsalted nuts and a piece of fruit! Swap the potato crisps for some vita weats topped with avocado and tomato! Easy!

Instead of commercial salad dressings and mayonnaises, make your own with small amounts of healthy oils combined with vinegar and citrus juices.
Also be sure to have FISH at least 3 times a week!

Changing the types of fats in your diet- less saturated and unsaturated in their place- can lower cholesterol by an average of 10%.

2. Get in your MINIMUM 2 fruit, 5 veg

If you are one of the MANY Australian’s out there who DO NOT meet this minimal daily intake of fruit and veg, one of the most significant things you can do for your heart health AND cholesterol, is to do this!

Be creative! Add berries to your morning cereal, a banana is a great mid-morning snack, and fresh fruit is a great way to finish off the evening meal. Plenty of opportunity to get your fruit in!

As for veggies, be sure to include these at lunch as well as dinner for optimal results, and why not snack on these? Snow peas, cherry tomatoes, green beans, carrot sticks, celery sticks, etc all make wonderful “any time” munchies! What’s more you can include these in unlimited quantities as they are largely calorie-free!

Why does this step work so well? Fruit and veggies are SUPER high in fibre and so not only help to reduce the absorption of cholesterol, but also help to “sweep” it out of our blood. What’s more, they contain LOADS of anti-oxidants which help prevent oxidation of bad cholesterol, which causes all of the problems! Wonderful! SO easy!

Want better results? Build on these minimum quantities. Of course if weight is an issue, focus more on vegetables 🙂

3. Include oats and legumes regularly

OATS are very high in soluble fibre, in particular beta-glucan, which can actively speed the removal of cholesterol from the body. Go for traditional oats as opposed to the more processed “quick” variety which often also have plenty of sugars added and are not as “low GI”. Traditional oats can be done in 2-3 minutes in the microwave anyway! If you like to add sweetness, limit to 1-2 tsp honey, or 1 tsp raw/brown sugar- delicious! Also try adding a sliced banana or blueberries for something extra special and SUPER cholesterol lowering 🙂

Legumes, including lentils, soya beans, red kidney beans, chick peas, etc are also very high in SOLUBLE fibre and excellent for helping to reduce cholesterol levels. These needent be boring or tastless either. Small tins of 3 or 4 bean mixes make great snacks, chickpeas add great flavour to salads, and lentil curries, bolognaise or patties can be incredible! Just be creative and think outside the square 🙂

This month’s Ravishing Recipe is in fact a perfect one for helping to reduce cholesterol levels- Cannellini bean mash. Not only delicious but also EASY to incorporate regularly!

Well there is MUCH more I could talk about but this article is long enough and I’m sure given you plenty to consider and work on.

Remember also that any amount of weight loss will greatly assist in lowering cholesterol, especially weight lost from the “mid-section”. Additionally, exercise helps! Both weight loss and physical activity not only work to lower BAD cholesterol, they also assist in increasing or maintaining GOOD cholesterol levels where they should be 🙂

Ok, so that is it!

Please let me know how you go with this and if you have any feedback on this months major article, please contact me

[email protected]

(please note- some of this information has been adapted from “Heart to Heart: a simple guide to lower cholesterol through diet and lifestyle”. You can get more info at www.ncepa.com.au )

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