While your body needs cholesterol for several bodily processes including building new cells and synthesising hormones, levels of cholesterol that are considered too high can increase your risk of heart disease.
Cholesterol is made up of several components, some of which are beneficial, and others that can be harmful and this is where the terms "good" and "bad" cholesterol came from. So, in order to understand how we can lower our cholesterol levels, it is first important to understand what cholesterol is made up of.
Total Cholesterol in our body is made up of of several different components:
Low-Density Lipoproteins (LDL) otherwise known as "bad" cholesterol and Very-Low-Density Lipoprotein (VLDL). Both LDL and VLDL cholesterol increase our risk of heart disease by building up on walls of arteries and decreasing blood flow;
High-Density Lipoproteins (HDL) or "good" Cholesterol - which reduce our risk of heart disease by taking bad cholesterol out of our blood and reducing risk of cholesterol build-up on artery walls and;
Triglycerides - which are carried by VLDL and also contribute to build up on arterial walls
While cholesterol is both essential and important for our bodies - too much of the "bad" cholesterol can be harmful to our health. So, how can we reduce our "bad" cholesterol, and increase our "good" cholesterol? Cholesterol levels are greatly influenced by what we eat, but there are also several other ways that we can help our cholesterol levels push closer towards a healthier range. Check out our top tips for reducing cholesterol levels below:
Tip 1. Increase intake of fibre rich foods - Foods that are rich in fibre such as fruit, vegetables, wholegrains and legumes help to reduce cholesterol levels by binding to cholesterol in the GI tract and transporting it out of the body before it is absorbed.
Tip 2. Include wholesome fats - Swap processed foods that are high in saturated fats, such as cakes and pastries, for foods rich in wholesome fats such as as oily fish, nuts, seeds, avocados and olive oils. This can help lower triglycerides while increasing HDL "good" cholesterol. They provide more satiety (fullness) for longer, help balance blood sugar, reducing the chance of snacking on foods that are high in sugar. Don't think so much about calories and more about whole foods (fewer ingredients and less processing).
Tip 3 - Move your Body - Not only can physical exercise help to lower LDL "bad" cholesterol, it has been shown to increase "good" Cholesterol (HDL). Remember that small amounts are better than nothing - Begin with 30minutes twice a week and slowly work your way up to ideally 30-60min of moderate intensity physical exercise 3-5 times per week - you body and mind will thank you for it.
Tip 4 - Decrease Alcohol Intake - The simplest way to decrease Triglycerides is to decrease your consumption of alcohol. Try sticking to the recommended 1-2 standard drinks a day, while including at least some alcohol free days during the week. Alternately you can try low or alcohol free variants of your favourite drinks - you will be surprised how good some of them are.
Tip 5 - Include oats in your diet - Oats contain beta glucan (an insoluble fibre) which help to lower LDL cholesterol or bad cholesterol and are great for heart health. Include a serving of oats for breakfast with fruit, or add them into a smoothie - They taste delicious! Other sources of beta glucan are wholegrains wheat and barley.
Tip 6 - Get enough Sleep - Several studies have linked sleep deprivation to several risk factors of heart disease such as increased triglyceride levels, increased LDL cholesterol and increased blood pressure. Try including a calming bedtime ritual to help you relax before bed time, refrain from drinking alcohol before bed, and if you suffer from sleep apnea or suspect you do, see your GP for advice on treatment.