Having high cholesterol is no laughing matter. Cholesterol is a waxy substance produced in your liver, and is essential for a number of bodily functions. The problem arises when your cholesterol levels rise, increasing your risk for stroke, heart disease, and heart attack. Luckily there are cholesterol lowering foods you can eat to lower your risk of heart disease and stroke from high cholesterol. Take a look at 7 foods to indulge in if you have high cholesterol.
What is High Cholesterol?
Cholesterol is a waxy, fat-like substance found in the body. It’s both good and bad – at a normal level, it’s an essential substance for the body, but high levels of cholesterol can increase your risk of heart disease and heart attack. A build-up of cholesterol can lead to narrowed arteries called atherosclerosis, in which plaques form and restrict blood flow.
RELATED: The Low Cholesterol Cookbook and Action Plan
Cholesterol is important for our bodies to function properly. It contributes to the structure of cell walls, helps our digestive system, allows the body to produce vitamin D, and enables the body to make certain hormones. It’s an oil-based substance that travels around the body in lipoproteins. There are two types of lipoprotein that carry the cholesterol:
- Low density lipoprotein (LDL): This is “bad” cholesterol that travels through the body in an unhealthy way.
- High density lipoprotein (HDL): This cholesterol is known as “good” cholesterol.
Having high cholesterol usually doesn’t produce any symptoms, so it is a good idea to get your levels checked by a doctor if you think you’re at risk of high cholesterol.
What Causes High Cholesterol?
High cholesterol is typically caused by poor and unhealthy lifestyle decisions. Certain behaviours can negatively affect your cholesterol levels, including eating a poor diet, a lack of physical activity, smoking or exposure to tobacco, and excess weight. Moderate alcohol use has also been linked to higher cholesterol levels.
High cholesterol can also be inherited from your mother, father or grandparents if they had bad cholesterol. This is called familial hypercholesterolemia (FH). FH is worrisome because it can lead to premature atherosclerotic heart disease. Your genetic makeup may keep cells from removing LDL from your blood efficiently or cause your liver to produce too much cholesterol.
Who is At Risk for High Cholesterol?
There are a number of factors that can lead to high cholesterol, and most of them are lifestyle related. Take a look at the people who are at higher risk for high cholesterol.
People with Unhealthy Eating Habits
Eating foods high in saturated fats and trans fats can raise your cholesterol level. These include foods such as animal fat products like cream, cheese and butter, as well as processed foods, commercially baked goods and microwave popcorn. Foods high in cholesterol, such as red meat and full-fat dairy products will also lead to high cholesterol.
People Who Are Overweight
Excess weight or obesity can lead to high blood LDL levels. Having a body mass index (BMI) of 30 or higher puts you at risk of high cholesterol.
People Who Do Not Exercise
Exercise helps boost your body’s HDL or “good” cholesterol level. It also increases the size of the particles that make up LDL or “bad” cholesterol, which makes it less harmful. Adding physical activity to your regular routine will also help you lose weight, which is beneficial since obesity is another risk factor for high cholesterol. You should be working out three to five times per week to stay at optimal health.
People Who Smoke
Smoking damages the walls of your blood vessels, which makes them prone to accumulating fatty deposits. Quitting smoking reduces your LDL cholesterol level and also regulates your blood pressure, heart rate, blood circulation and lung function.
People With Diabetes
Higher blood sugar contributes to higher levels of a dangerous cholesterol called very low density lipoprotein (VLDL) and lower HDL cholesterol. High blood sugar also damages the lining of your arteries, so those with diabetes have a greater risk of developing high cholesterol.
20 Foods to Avoid If You Have High Cholesterol
1. Fatty beef
4. Red meat
5. Sausage and bacon
6. Poultry with skin
7. Cold cuts and cured meats
8. Lard and shortening
9. Butter and margarine
10. Whole dairy products
11. Frozen foods
12. Saturated vegetable oils such as coconut oil
13. Canned soup
14. Salty snack foods
15. Packaged cookies, cakes and pastries
16. Ice cream
17. Potato chips and crackers
18. Commercially fried foods
19. Buttered popcorn
20. French fries
7 Cholesterol Lowering Foods to Indulge In
Fruits are very important to heart health. Many fruits are high in soluble fibre, which helps lower cholesterol levels. A soluble fibre called pectin has been found to lower cholesterol up to 10% and is found in fruits like apples, grapes and strawberries. Fruit also contains bioactive compounds that have antioxidant and anti-inflammatory effects, which can prevent heart disease and other chronic diseases.
Vegetables are also extremely beneficial to your health. They’re rich in fibre and antioxidants and low in calories, being an excellent addition to a healthy diet, especially for those wishing to lose weight. Like fruits, some vegetables are also high in pectin, including eggplants, carrots and potatoes. Their wide range of benefits make them a heart healthy choice.
3. Oats and Barley
Oats and barley are an amazing source of soluble fibre, which has been shown to lower your risk of heart disease. In fact, eating three servings of whole grains, such as oats and barley, has been shown to lower your risk of heart disease and stroke by 20%. Oats and barley are chock full of minerals, vitamins and plant compounds that are known to promote heart health.
Beans are also rich in soluble fibre. They make you feel full for longer, which can help with weight loss and overeating. They contain a good dose of fibre, minerals and protein, and with so many different types of beans and so many ways to prepare them, they are an extremely versatile food perfect for different tastes and preferences.
Nuts are extremely high in nutrients and monounsaturated fats. Nuts like walnuts, almonds and peanuts are good for the heart and can lower LDL by 5%. Nuts also provide phytosterols – plant compounds that are structurally similar to cholesterol and help lower cholesterol by blocking its absorption in your intestines.
Soybeans and foods made from soybeans such as tofu and soy milk are known to lower cholesterol. Soy foods can reduce the risk of heart disease, especially in people who have high cholesterol already.
7. Fatty Fish
Fatty fish, especially salmon and mackerel can lower LDL in a number of ways. When you replace meat with fish, you’re eliminating LDL boosting saturated fats found in meat, and instead delivering LDL-lowering omega-3s. Omega-3s boost heart health by increasing good cholesterol and lowering inflammation and stroke risk. The healthiest ways to cook fish are steaming and stewing – fried fish can increase your risk of heart disease and stroke.
Having high cholesterol can be extremely dangerous. If you’re at risk, make sure you fill up on these heart healthy foods!
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