Dear Dr. Mo: I’m worried about my cholesterol levels and I am thinking of ways to avoid foods that will keep on raising it. What to do to bring my cholesterol down?
Dear reader: Following a healthy diet usually brings up the question of which foods to avoid. The follow up thought in our heads leads us to figuring out which foods could raise our cholesterol levels and add kilograms.
Normally, you’d want to avoid too much saturated fats from meat, full fat-dairy products (cheese, high fat milk) and trans fats found in many processed foods like pastries, processed cheese like the ones in a fast-food burger, cakes, cookies, biscuits, creams, candy etc. Even your favorite chips or pretzels are packed with trans fats (these hide behind tech terms like hydrogenated plant-based fat or palm fat so don’t be fooled).
These foods hurt our bodies not just by raising cholesterol levels (mostly the ‘bad’ one – LDL) but by exposing our cells to un-natural compounds, which we were simply not designed to handle.
In response, our systems are stressed out and over time, chain biochemical reactions lead to cancers, heart disease, strokes, diabetes, tons of autoimmune diseases, genetic alterations etc.
The list of unhealthful foods would be far too long. Here’s a hint – those advertised the most are usually suspicious.
Instead, and further to my previous post, I will list 8 foods (and functional foods), which strongly help to regulate your cholesterol level and have appropriate ratio of HDL (the ‘good’ one) Vs. LDL (the ‘bad’ one).
Of course, for some people, diet alone is not enough to bring cholesterol under control in which case your doctor may start you on some medication to help you reach desired levels but even in these cases, proper diet is of large significance for success and long term health.
Green tea – This is a functional food with zero calories and without a nutritious content but full of chemicals called polyphenols, which regulate fat absorption and help reduce LDL and total cholesterol levels. I recommend at least one cup a day and preferably 3 – 4.
Oats and Barley – these whole grains are rich in dietary soluble fiber (beta glucan) which binds to cholesterol blocking its absorption from the gut – having these for breakfast every day will help bring the LDL down.
Beans – Beans, peanuts and lentils are tasty soluble fiber sources and just as good as oats in decreasing your off LDL levels. Note that fiber could make you develop gas but if you are persistent, after a week or two of daily consumption, this should stop happening.
Oils – Olive, Cannola and Avocado oils are full of monounsaturated fats known as heart-healthy fats because they both lower your LDL and could raise your HDL to healthy levels. Remember that oils do contain a lot of calories and are rich in fat so be moderate in its use (stick to approximately one tea-spoon per meal). If you plan to expose these oils to frying, make sure you know their smoke-point or a point at which these oils break down and loose both taste and good nutritional values.
Nuts – All nuts (almonds, peanuts, walnuts, pistachios etc.) are also rich source of monounsaturated fats which could lower your LDL while providing good fiber, protein and variety of vitamins and minerals. I usually eat up to a 100 grams per day but this is a bit much for any weight loss diet so try to stick around 30 grams.
Soy – A wonderful replacement for meat and dairy protein as it is the only plant with complete protein and no cholesterol, low in saturated fat and rich in fiber. It goes without saying that this plant helps you reduce the LDL.
Red wine – another functional food which contains alcohol known to raise HDL and plyphenols, which may lower your LDL. Of course, the key is moderation so if you do drink wine, limit yourself to one glass a day; recent studies have indicated that non-alcoholic wine works even better as alcohol has a tendency of reducing efficacy of polyphenols.
Tomatoes – The reason for tomatoes’ red color is Lykopen, an antioxidant with potential power to reduce your LDL; even without this, tomatoes bring you fiber and heart-healthy potassium. In case of tomatoes cooking them actually helps in Lycopene absorption. If you don’t eat tomatoes enough for some reason, tomato juice is an excellent replacement (just read the label to make sure it actually has tomatoes, if you know what I mean).
These foods are no magic bullet but they could present a potent weapon in attaining heart-healthy levels of cholesterol. These foods will do even more – they will provide your body with natural nutrients to which the cells will respond with applause. This means overall health down the road and not just good cholesterol measure and this is important because health is when everything works fine.
A healthy diet takes care of your whole body and provides for the soul.
Yours in health,