- A majority of Britons, 60 per cent, have unhealthy cholesterol levels
- Managing this does not have to be hard and including these foods is a start
- Add ‘smart foods’, fibres, nuts, soya, healthy oils and oats to your diet
Your cholesterol is too high. Well, perhaps not specifically you, but thousands of Britons have this news broken to them by doctors every day. We all have an amount of this special type of fat in our blood. It is essential for many bodily functions, but most of us – 60 per cent – have too much.
High cholesterol is a key factor in developing heart disease, which claims three times more lives than breast cancer and twice as many as lung cancer. The good news is that lowering your cholesterol is the biggest thing you can do to reduce your risk.
It’s something TV personality Gabby Logan, for one, is keen to promote. ‘A key risk factor for heart disease is high cholesterol but you can protect yourself with simple changes to lifestyle and diet,’ says Gabby, who is supporting the British Heart Foundation Love Your Heart campaign.
The big six: TV sports presenter Gabby Logan, right, is backing the drive to lower Britain’s cholesterol using these six food groups
But just how can you do this? Much of the health advice on the matter, including that on the NHS Eat Well site, is vague, leading to many misconceptions and myths.
So can diet alone be used to bring down high cholesterol – or should we leave it all to statins? The answer for very many people is yes, you CAN reduce your levels significantly through making changes in your diet. Should we stop eating eggs? Aren’t they high in cholesterol? In fact, the answer is no. No food is prohibited, so you can still eat cheese, red meat and chocolate, within the limits of a low-fat diet.
1. SMART FOODS
These include Flora pro.activ and Benecol yogurt shots, as well as other products containing stanols and sterols. These naturally occurring molecules, which are found in plants, block the absorption of dietary cholesterol, which is then excreted with other waste.
Studies have shown that plant sterols reduce cholesterol levels by seven to ten per cent within three weeks, as part of a diet low in saturated fat.
You need to consume 2g in one go alongside your biggest meal of the day, each day, to get the full effect. The best form is the yogurt shot drinks that provide this amount of plant sterols alongside just under 40 calories and 1.4g of fat. You need to eat six teaspoons of fortified margarine to get the same amount of sterols, which delivers 150 calories and 18g of fat, although low-fat margarines with sterols are now also available.
Drink with your main meal as sterols reduce the amount of fat absorbed. ‘A shot with your morning coffee or little bits of margarine through the day will not produce the same benefits,’ says Catherine Collins, principal dietician at St George’s Healthcare NHS Trust.
The high fermentable-fibre content of beans and pulses means that they cannot be digested easily by the gut. This fibre binds to cholesterol so that it is removed through waste. High-fibre bread can be added to the diet to boost fibre intake further.
A meta-analysis of 67 studies on dietary fibre and cholesterol levels revealed that consuming more fibre helped reduce ‘bad’ LDL cholesterol by a small but significant amount.
Fibrous foods such as beans also trick the body into absorbing less saturated fat, which can help control weight and protect arteries from heart disease.
Eighteen grams a day. Around 5g will come from oat-based products and you can get the rest from just a slice of high-fibre toast and two tablespoons of beans. Fruit and veg will also boost fibre intake.
Just swapping white bread for wholemeal can lower cholesterol levels, a manageable step for everyone.
‘It’s easy for most people to add fibre to their diet,’ says Linda Main, of the cholesterol charity HEART UK.