Should we carefully choose foods with our blood cholesterol levels in mind, and avoid food with high natural levels? This is perhaps one of the most confusing health topics, because there is so called 'Good and 'Bad' cholesterol and foods high in cholesterol only appear to have a small effect on the cholesterol levels in the blood. Elevated concentrations of cholesterol in your blood, especially the so-called "bad" sort known as LDL cholesterol is known to substantially increase your risk of strokes and heart attacks.
Everyone wants to avoid this risk, but how effective will eliminating high cholesterol foods from diet lower these levels. Should we avoid eating foods such as eggs, liver, pate, prawns and lobsters and other foods that have been suggested as being loaded with cholesterol. The answer is appears very much depends on your circumstances and lifestyle according to Associate Professor David Sullivan, of the Royal Prince Alfred Hospital in Sydney which has spent a lifetime studying the topic.
Myths about Cholesterol Debunked and Diet Tips
Firstly it is important to debunk the myth because research has clearly shown that eating foods high in cholesterol only causes a very small increase in the level of the harmful type of cholesterol levels in your blood. Many of these foods are highly nutritious and we should not necessarily be deprived of their benefits. However some people in the group with high risk of heart disease through genetics or weight problems may need to avoid such foods as even a small extra risk factor can be significant.
Significantly, the total quantity of saturated fat in the food we eat affects the level of cholesterol in the blood, much more than the amount of cholesterol itself. Many people can reduce their cholesterol levels by adopting an active lifestyle, lowering their body weight, and eating a healthy diet. This means focusing on eliminating food high in saturated fats and trans fats and replacing these foods with oils, nuts and seeds.
Good and Bad Cholesterol
Low-density lipoprotein (LDL) is one of 5 major types of lipoproteins in the blood, which form part of the body's system for transporting various fat molecules, including cholesterol, throughout the body and to the liver. Studies have shown that higher levels LDL particles increase the risk of cardiovascular disease and other health problems. Because of this they are often labelled bad cholesterol particles. High-density lipoprotein (HDL particles) are often called good cholesterol or healthy cholesterol particles, because they are not associated with health problems. In most healthy people about 30% of blood cholesterol is carried by HDL, which have a role in transporting cholesterol back to the liver for re-processing or excretion. Studies have shown that when you eat cholesterol in various foods, any increase in "bad" LDL cholesterol in your blood is small, and there is a simultaneous increase in a "good" type known as HDL cholesterol. The "good" and "bad" types of cholesterol tends to cancel each other out. So when you eat foods rich in cholesterol, your overall risk of heart attack and strokes only rises a small amount.
In contrast, what does significantly increase your risk is eating foods high in saturated and trans fats. This is because, unlike cholesterol in the diet, these fats exclusively raise the "bad" LDL cholesterol in your blood. Consequently eating foods high in trans and saturated fats is regarded far worse for your health.
The Bottom Line about High Cholesterol Foods
The bottom line is that most people don't need to be striving to avoid cholesterol-rich foods, but they should look at levels of trans and saturated fat. However you are in the group of people who are at risk of heart attack or stroke through family history or other factors, you should avoid foods like eggs prawns and other seafood rich in cholesterol. For these people any small extra risk should be avoided
So the take home recommendation is to focus on eating a wide range of healthy whole and fresh foods rather than focusing specifically on avoiding cholesterol – unless you've received medical advice specific to your condition.
Diet Tips for Lowering Blood Cholesterol levels
Other diet tips to help lower blood cholesterol levels include:
Avoiding foods containing trans and saturated fats. These foods include fatty meats, butter, coconut oil, processed meats, full fat dairy products and palm oil . It also includes most commercially baked products and deep fried take-away foods, such as battered fish and chips, hamburgers and fries, biscuits, buns, pizza, pies and pastries.
Eating food containing polyunsaturated and mono-unsaturated fats that are known to lower blood cholesterol levels. Good sources include some nuts, oily fish, seeds, avocados, margarine spreads and various oils such as peanut, sunflower, olive, canola and oils derived from soybeans.
Eating foods enriched with substances known as plant sterols. These include plant sterol enriched margarine, milk, yoghurt and bread.
Eating food high in natural fibre, particularly soluble fibre, which can help reduce "bad" cholesterol levels. Good sources include oats, fruits, barley and legumes such as lentils, chickpeas and soybeans. Oatmeal is particularly rich in soluble fiber, which reduces the "bad" cholesterol (low-density lipoprotein (LDL)). Other good sources of soluble fiber are foods as pears, barley, kidney beans, apples and prunes. Eating 5-10 grams of soluble fiber can actually reduce the absorption of cholesterol into your bloodstream.
Eating fish and other foods rich in omega-3 fatty acids - Eating fatty fish can be very healthy because some species contain omega-3 fatty acids, which are known to lower the risk of developing blood clots and reduce your blood pressure. The highest levels of omega-3 fatty acids are in species such as: Mackerel, Herring, Sardines, Albacore tuna, Lake trout, Salmon, Halibut. You should generally bake or grill the fish so that you avoid adding unhealthy fats during frying. If you don't like fish, other sources of omega-3 fatty acids include canola oil and ground flaxseed. Taking a fish oil supplement can provide many benefits, but you will miss out on the other nutrients in fish, such as selenium.
Eating walnuts, almonds and other nuts - Almonds, walnuts and other nuts can help reduce blood cholesterol. Eating a handful (1.5 ounces, or 42.5 grams) or most nuts every day, such as peanuts, pecans, almonds, pistachio nuts, hazelnuts, some pine nuts and walnuts, may help reduce the risk of heart disease. Try to make sure none of the nuts you eat are salted or covered in chocolate or sugar. Remember that nuts are high in calories so limit them to a handful and use them as a replacement for meat and bread.
Eating Olive oil - Virgin olive oil contains a wonderful mix of antioxidants that can help lower your "bad" cholesterol but leave your "good" cholesterol untouched. The FDA recommends people eat about 2 tablespoons (23 grams) of olive oil every day as a substitute for other fats. Olive oil can be added to cooked vegetables, use it as a marinade ingredient, or mix it with vinegar as a salad dressing.