Low Cholesterol Diet (Foods, Tips & Diet Plan)
Lifestyle disorders have been a cause of concern over the past several decades. It has almost overpowered the disease burden due to infectious or communicable diseases. Cancer, cardiac disorders, diabetes, stroke and a range of other diseases have hit the human population severely. Furthermore, it becomes essential for us to understand the cause of this category of diseases so that we can make changes in living habits accordingly. It is the main reason many people have started following a low cholesterol diet.
Among these, cardiovascular disorders (CVDs) have a prominent role in decreasing the quality of life in people. According to a report published by the World Health Organisation (WHO), CVDs are the number one cause of death globally. The saddest part is, most of these conditions can be managed by controlling the risk factors like tobacco use, unhealthy food habits, lack of physical activities and alcoholic consumption.
Improper diet plans are the biggest culprits and among them, fried and processed food items leave the biggest impact. These contribute to the build-up of lipids in the body. There is a subsequent rise in the levels of cholesterols which leads to heart diseases (1) (2).
What is Cholesterol?
Cholesterol is a highly familiar term these days. People can connect it with conditions like heart attack, stroke and chest pain. Cholesterol is a fat-like, waxy substance that is essentially found in all the cells of the body (3) (4).
They play a vital role in the formation of vitamin D and certain hormones in the body and helps in the proper digestion of food. It is found in food items like meat, egg, cheese, etc. Cholesterol is attached to a lipoprotein for traversing through the bloodstream. Based on the type of lipoprotein, they are:
- Low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol– these are ‘bad’ cholesterol since they tend to get accumulated in the walls of the arteries. This results in hard and narrow arterial walls (5).
- High-density lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol– these are ‘good’ cholesterol. It carries away cholesterol from different body parts back to the liver, where it gets metabolized.
- Very low-density lipoprotein (VLDL) cholesterol– these are also dangerous to health since they tend to get deposited in arteries.
Causes of high cholesterol levels
A high cholesterol level in the body might be attributed to many common reasons (6). Some of them are :
1. Poor eating habits
Diet plans containing high quantities of saturated fatty acids like bakes items, meats, processed food, junk foods, chocolate, etc. can increase the LDL cholesterol levels in the body
2. Lack of exercise or physical activity
The current lifestyle involves very little physical activity that leads to low HDL levels. Exercising can help in reducing LDL cholesterol levels and enhance HDL cholesterol levels.
Results in lowering of HDL cholesterol levels in the body.
High blood sugar can cause a drop in the HDL cholesterol levels and increase the amount of LDL and VLDL cholesterol in the body. Hence, it is advisable to practice the diabetic diet.
Risk factors that add to high cholesterol levels
It is also important to understand certain risk factors that might contribute to higher levels of LDL cholesterol in the body:
- Age– the capacity of the liver to eliminate LDL cholesterol reduces with age. Hence, increasing age is a risk factor.
- Obesity– a Body Mass Index (BMI) score of 30 and above puts a person at higher risk.
- Genetic factors– cholesterol-related problems might run down over generations.
- Race– certain specific races have a higher risk to get high levels of LDL cholesterol levels (like African Americans when compared to whites).
If you are suffering from high cholesterol levels you can read my post on how to lower cholesterol.
Controlling what we eat can help us a long way in the fight against lifestyle diseases. This is especially true in the case of cholesterol. Below are some foods that lower cholesterol
Nuts are rich in unsaturated fats and contain low levels of saturated fats. This is a great mix for healthy control over cholesterol.
First of all, they also contain fibers that help to block the absorption of certain unwanted cholesterol into the bloodstream. Secondly, they contribute to the overall nutrition by providing proteins, vitamin E, magnesium, plant sterols, and potassium. Consuming a handful of nuts like almonds, macadamias, cashew nuts, walnuts, peanuts, etc. can support the nutrient requirements for a day (6) (7).
2. Oats and barley
One of the main components in oats and barley is glucan that helps in binding cholesterol in the intestine. This will lead to lowered amounts of cholesterol being absorbed from the guts to the bloodstream. One should take three-servings of oats or barley-based meals a day. It is important to check the contents of the pack and select glucan containing products (8) (9).
3. Foods with unsaturated fats
Replacing saturated fats with unsaturated fats by consuming vegetable oils, avocado, and nuts can help in managing cholesterol levels in the body (10).
4. Omega-3 fatty acids
Tips to Lower Cholesterol
One can follow a variety of methods to control cholesterol at healthy levels. These steps might be slow to take action but can be highly fruitful once made a habit.
1. Include loads of soluble fibers in the diet
Soluble fibers present in the digestive tract prevent the absorption of cholesterol by the gut. Cereals like oats and barley, fruits like banana, apples and pears and legumes including beans are rich sources of soluble fibers (12).
2. Add herbs and spices to diet
These are rich sources of vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants. Studies have proved the effectiveness of garlic, turmeric, and ginger in lowering the LDL cholesterol levels in the body. The antioxidants prevent the oxidizing of LDL cholesterol thus reducing plaque formation in arteries. Oregano, sage, mint, clove, and cinnamon have high concentrations of antioxidants (13).
3. Avoid trans fats
consuming trans fats can enhance the LDL cholesterol levels in the body along with lowering HDL cholesterol levels. These are abundantly found in processed foods and are a threat to health (14).
4. Increase soy intake
It is rich in soy proteins and isoflavones which have cholesterol-lowering effects, as a result, supports a healthy heart. Consuming soybeans or soy milk rather than processed forms are more effective in lowering LDL cholesterol levels (15) (16).
5. Reduce alcohol consumption
Increased alcohol consumption can result in higher calories in the body which leads to obesity. Obesity is one of the biggest factors that causes a lowering of HDL cholesterol and a rise in LDL cholesterol in the body. It can also lead to enhanced triglyceride levels (17) (18).
6. Consume fish rich in omega-3 fatty acids
These fatty acids help in enhancing the levels of HDL cholesterol in the body. Salmon, tuna, and mackerel are rich in omega-3 fatty acids.
7. Drink green tea daily
Several studies have confirmed the effect of green tea in lowering the LDL cholesterol levels in the body. Green tea lowers the production of LDL cholesterol in the liver and enhances its elimination from the bloodstream. Green tea also contains antioxidants that will prevent the oxidation of unsaturated fatty acids in the body (19) (20).
8. Reduce the intake of added sugars
Fructose-based sugars can cause an increase in the levels of LDL cholesterol. The risk of cardiac diseases in such patients is also higher (21).
9. Increase the consumption of unsaturated fats
Unsaturated fats are usually available as liquids at room temperature. These fats can lower the levels of LDL cholesterol by 11% in about 2 months. Food items like avocados, fatty fish, nuts, olives, etc. are high in unsaturated fatty acids.
10. Add more fruits and vegetables to your diet plan
It is one of the easiest ways to lower LDL cholesterol levels in the body. The antioxidants present in fresh fruits and vegetables prevent the oxidation of LDL cholesterol thereby lowering the chances of plaque formation in the arterial walls (22).
11. Include Mediterranean food items in your diet
This type of diet plan would be abundant in olive oil, fruits, vegetables, nuts, whole grains, fish, etc. and contain low amounts of red meat and dairy. Most of these food items help to lower the LDL cholesterol levels in the body.
Low Cholesterol Diet Plan
For those who wish to start a diet plan to manage the cholesterol levels in the body, always discuss the same with a nutritionist. This helps in the preparation of a custom-made diet plan that suits their health requirements. A sample 3-day diet plan is given below. This plan has been formulated by some well-known experts in the field of nutrition and health.
Breakfast– oats with fresh berries along with nonfat milk (or soya milk). Oatmeal has cholesterol-lowering effects.
Snack– baby carrots with broccoli and Greek yogurt. Mix the ingredients well and add lemon juice to taste.
Lunch– sweet potato with Dijon mustard along with salad containing lettuce, red onions, and tomatoes.
Dinner– baby greens salad with Pritikin’s Tuscan flavored with ginger, herbs, and mustard.
Breakfast– egg-white omelet with salsa and green onions. Add Cantaloupe with cottage cheese and a cup of tea/coffee.
Snack– a bowl of sliced pear
Lunch– salad containing baby spinach and roasted Brussels sprout along with barley soup.
Dinner– meatless burger with slices of roasted red pepper along with baked potato and Greek yogurt
Breakfast– a bowl of Muesli with tea/coffee
Snack– an orange or 2 to 3 tangerines
Lunch– Asian Edamame salad along with steamed asparagus
Dinner– trout fillets, salad with kale and sliced apple and white bean soup.