Your diet is a powerful tool for looking after your cholesterol levels and your heart generally. Unlike your age or family history, your diet something that is largely within your control to change. Most importantly, eating well doesn’t require deprivation or strict dieting – eating to beat cholesterol can be enjoyable.
The great thing about a heart-friendly diet is that it improves lots of other risk factors as well, such as blood pressure, blood glucose levels, other fats in the blood (triglycerides) and unhealthy body fat stored around the middle.
Good and bad cholesterol
We often talk about “good” and “bad” cholesterol to note the important difference between two types:
- The cholesterol to avoid is LDL (remember L for lousy). This cholesterol deposits on the walls of your arteries. Lowering your LDL cholesterol levels will reduce your risk of cardiovascular disease.
- The good cholesterol is HDL (remember H for happy). This is actually protective because it collects cholesterol from around the body and takes it back to the liver for processing.
It’s important to look past your total cholesterol number and find out the proportion between LDL and HDL cholesterol to determine your risk level.
"The low fat diet is dead – it’s all about ensuring you eat healthy fats, rather than no fats at all. Foods rich in healthy fats include nuts, fish, avocados and olives."
Foods to beat cholesterol
Top cholesterol beaters include healthy oils, plant sterols, nuts, soluble fibre and soy. These are best enjoyed within a mostly plant-based, heart-friendly eating pattern. That means eating plenty of vegetables and fruits, legumes and wholegrains, as well as some fish, lean meat and dairy foods.
- Healthy oils The low fat diet is dead – it’s all about ensuring you eat healthy fats, rather than no fats at all. Examples of healthy fats include olive, canola, sunflower and rice bran oils, and unsaturated oil spreads. Foods rich in healthy fats include nuts, fish, avocados and olives.
- Plant sterols Try to consume 2 g a day of plant sterols, which can be found in vegetable oils, and plant sterol-enriched foods such as oil spreads, margarine, low-fat yoghurt and low-fat milk.
- Nuts Aim for 1-2 handfuls a day, preferably unsalted.
- Soluble fibre Foods rich in soluble fibre include psyllium, oats, barley, lentils, eggplant, okra, apricots, mango and oranges. Soluble fibre supplements are available too.
- Soy Tofu, tempeh, soy milk, soy burgers, soy bread and breakfast cereal.
Foods to limit
We need to replace saturated and trans fats with unsaturated fats to lower cholesterol and reduce cardiovascular risk. Practical ways to achieve this are:
- Enjoy lean meats.
- Cook and dress food with healthy oils.
- Use oil spread instead of butter.
- Limit commercially produced pies, pastries, cakes and cookies, as well as take away and fast food.