Science has already proven that high cholesterol levels significantly increases one’s risk for developing heart diseases secondary to plaque formation. Over time, this plaque grows until it obstructs sufficient blood flow to the heart leading to compromised cardiac function. Because a great majority of the cholesterol in the body comes from food that we eat, it does makes sense to reduce the intake of food that is high in cholesterol and to increase the intake of foods that are shown by science to have a natural cholesterol-lowering effect.
The Truth about Cholesterol
It is important to recognize that cholesterol, as a whole, is not bad for your health. Contrary to what you might be inclined to believe, cholesterol is needed by the body for a variety of essential functions. Cholesterol is needed to manufacture some hormones from the adrenal glands. These hormones are responsible for bone health, mental status, healthy digestion, and sex drive. Cholesterol is also an important molecule in the production of bile which emulsifies fat in order to be properly digested by the body. If fat goes undigested, then you are essentially letting the fat molecules run free in the bloodstream further aggravating the risk of developing atherosclerosis. Every single cell in the body is also composed of cholesterol making up the cell’s protective cell membrane.
If cholesterol is that important to the body, why is it related to cardiac diseases?
Cholesterol cannot be transported as is in the blood. As such, cholesterol often requires a carrier molecule in order to exert its effects. In order for fat or cholesterol to travel in the bloodstream, it needs to combine with a protein molecule leading to lipoprotein. There can be many variations depending on the proportion of the component substances. In cholesterol, there are essentially 2 – high density lipoprotein (HDL) and low density lipoprotein (LDL). HDL is composed of 50% protein and 20% cholesterol while LDL contains 50% cholesterol and 25% protein.
Based on this, it should be fairly obvious that the main culprit in cholesterol-related cardiac events is low density lipoprotein simply because half of it is already cholesterol while only a fifth of HDL is cholesterol. As such, health experts all point to increasing the levels of HDL and lowering the levels of LDL as the cornerstone of the management of cholesterol-related heart problems. Owing to the 50% protein composition of HDL, it naturally reduces the amount of circulating cholesterol, those not bound onto proteins, by binding to them and placing them where they are needed most.
Now, at the beginning of the article, food intake was cited as one of the major reasons for an abnormally elevated levels of cholesterol, particularly LDL. While other factors can also lead to increased LDL levels, knowing what foods you need to take in order to lower your cholesterol levels is important in preventing atherosclerosis, coronary artery disease, angina pectoris, and other cardiovascular conditions related to fatty plaque deposition on the blood vessel walls.
Here are some of the foods that you can include in your diet to lower your cholesterol levels.
- High Soluble Fiber Foods – Highly soluble fiber foods have been shown to be effective in lowering the levels of LDL in the blood. This is done by reducing the amount of cholesterol that is being absorbed into the bloodstream resulting in fewer cholesterol molecules roaming free in the blood, it is said that a daily soluble fiber intake of at least 10 grams is sufficient to decrease total and LDL cholesterol levels. Excellent sources of high soluble fiber foods include oatmeal, oat bran, kidney beans, pears, barley, apples, and prunes.
- Omega-3 Fatty Acid-Rich Foods – While omega-3 fatty acids do not necessarily lower LDL cholesterol levels, it does provide sufficient protection for the heart especially in the reduction of the risk for blood clot formation. As such, it is always ideal to include at least two servings of salmon, lake trout, mackerel, sardines, halibut, albacore tuna, or herring every week.
- Monounsaturated Fatty Acid-Rich Foods – Known to increase HDL levels and reduce LDL levels, monounsaturated fatty acids (MUFAs) can provide for a much healthier cholesterol profile. When it comes to MUFAs, nothing can compare to the effectiveness of avocados as well as extra virgin olive oil. However, caution should be taken when consuming these foods as they are calorie-dense. You may be addressing the need for lower LDL but if you are not careful, you will be putting on additional weight.
- Stanols- or Sterols- Fortified Foods – Stanols or sterols are natural plant substances that have been shown to be effective in blocking the absorption of cholesterol into the bloodstream. Some yogurt drinks, orange juice, and a few margarines contain stanols which can reduce LDL by as much as 15 percent.
- Other Cholesterol–Lowering Foods – Other foods that may help lower LDL cholesterol include whey protein products, tea, spinach, garlic, and chocolate.
Cholesterol is important in the body. However, too much of it can lead to heart problems. Knowing the excellent sources of LDL cholesterol-lowering and HDL cholesterol-increasing substances is crucial to leading a healthier life.