The combination of a low-saturated-fat, total-fat, and low-cholesterol diet, physical activity, and weight control can have many positive effects on overall health.
In addition to lowering the “bad” LDL cholesterol, they can raise the “good” HDL cholesterol.
The body naturally makes cholesterol. Dietary cholesterol is found in foods that contain animal products (butter, milk, cheese, chicken, beef, eggs, etc.). Plant products do NOT contain cholesterol. There are many good things cholesterol does in the body, including:
- Acts as a building block for hormones
- Is an important constituent of bile, which helps digest fat
- Helps maintain the integrity of cell membranes
Why is LDL cholesterol considered “bad”?
When too much low-density lipoprotein (LDL) circulates in the blood, it can slowly build up in the walls of the arteries that feed the heart and brain. Together with other substances it can form plaque, a thick, hard deposit that can clog those arteries. This condition is known as atherosclerosis. If a clot forms and blocks a narrowed artery, it can cause a heart attack or stroke. That is why LDL is often called “bad” cholesterol.
Why is HDL cholesterol considered “good”?
About one-third to one-fourth of blood cholesterol is carried by high-density lipoprotein (HDL). HDL is known as the “good” cholesterol because a high level of it seems to protect against heart attack. Medical experts think that HDL tends to carry cholesterol away from the arteries and back to the liver, where it is passed from the body. Some experts believe that HDL removes excess cholesterol from plaque in arteries, thus slowing the build-up.
- Total Cholesterol Should Be Less than 200 mg/dL
- 200-239 mg/dL is Borderline high
- 240 mg/dL and above is High
- Less than 100 mg/dL is optimal
- 100-129 mg/dL is near optimal
- 130-159 mg/dL borderline high
- 160-189 mg/dL is high
- 190 mg/dL and above is very high
HDL (good) cholesterol protects against heart disease, so for HDL, higher numbers are better. A level less that 40 mg/dL is low and it increases risk for heart disease.
*Cholesterol levels are measured in milligrams (mg) of cholesterol per deciliter (dL) of blood.
Fiber is VERY important to any cholesterol lowering plan.
What is fiber?
Fiber is a substance found only in plants, such as fruits, vegetables, and grains. The part of the plant fiber that you eat is called dietary fiber and is an important part of a healthy diet. Dietary fiber is made up of two main types–insoluble and soluble. Both types of fiber are important to our health and aid in weight loss.
What is the difference between insoluble and soluble fiber?
Soluble fiber forms a gel when mixed with liquid, while insoluble fiber does not. Insoluble fiber passes through your digestive tract largely intact. Both types of fiber are important in the diet and provide benefits to the digestive system by helping to maintain regularity. Soluble fiber has some additional benefits to heart health.
What are some good sources of soluble fiber?
Soluble fiber is found in oats, peas, beans, certain fruits, and psyllium (pronounced sil’e-um). Psyllium is a grain that is found in some cereal products, in certain dietary supplements, and in certain bulk fiber supplements.
What are the benefits of soluble fiber?
In additional to the digestive system benefits mentioned above, soluble fiber contributes to delayed emptying of the stomach which contributes to early fullness and decreased appetite. Soluble fiber has been scientifically proven to reduce blood cholesterol levels, which may help reduce your risk of heart disease.
Tips to increase fiber:
- Increase vegetable consumption to at least three, 1-cup servings per day.
- Increase fruit consumption to at least two servings per day (½ cup canned or 1 piece fresh equals a serving).
- Increase whole grain consumption to at least four, ½ cup servings per day. This includes oats, brown rice, bran, quinoa, barley and whole wheat (choose whole grains products).
- Eat legumes daily (try bean dips or spreads such as hummus or black bean dip).
- Snack on air-popped popcorn (sprinkle your popcorn with nutritional yeast and sea salt as a yummy alternative to butter).
- Add oatmeal, oat bran, wheat germ, or rice bran to hot cereal, yogurt, meat loaf, meatballs or hamburgers (remember animal products do not contain fiber).
- Substitute whole grain flour for white flour in baking recipes.
- If currently eating a low fiber diet, it is suggested to gradually increase fiber intake and drink plenty of water (at least 8 glasses per day) to avoid discomfort and gas that can occur with a sudden increase in fiber.
Read more articles on cholesterol
Sources: American Dietetic Association