Cholesterol has been very unjustly portrayed as a deadly villain to healthy living. It’s a myth that cholesterol has a detrimental effect on health. The body requires cholesterol for important functions like producing hormones, vitamin D, and substances that regulate digestion. Cholesterol only becomes a health problem when its levels are impaired (dyslipidemia), which can result in plaque formation and hence coronary heart disorders (due to narrowing of the arteries supplying the heart).
What is good and bad cholesterol?
Cholesterol is carried in the blood mainly by two lipoproteins: high-density lipoprotein (HDL) and low-density lipoprotein (LDL). Desirable level for HDL is 60 mg/dl and above and that of LDL is less than 100 mg/dl.
LDL, in excess, contributes to fatty deposition in the arterial walls, resulting in their hardening and narrowing. This causes reduced blood flow to the heart or a clot formation, which can result in stroke, heart attack, or peripheral vascular disorder (narrowing of the arteries in the legs). Thus, LDL is known as bad cholesterol. HDL, on another hand, removes cholesterol from the blood and carries it to the liver where it is metabolized and removed from the body. As it prevents atherosclerosis and cardiovascular disorders, it is known as good cholesterol.
Natural ways to improve HDL and lower LDL
1) Limit intake of saturated fats: Saturated fats increase LDL and total cholesterol level. Thus their intake should be avoided or limited. The American Heart Association suggests no more than 5-6% of the total calories should come from saturated fats. Saturated fats are found in palm oil, coconut oil, margarine, butter, cheese, red meat, and other animal-derived foods.
2) Consume phytosterols: These sterols are naturally found in various plant oils. They have structurally similar to cholesterol and hence compete with it, reducing cholesterol absorption from the small intestine, and 14% reduction in LDL levels. Common sources of phytosterols include seeds, nuts, legumes, and unrefined plant oils. The recommended dose is 2-3 grams per day.
3) Increase intake of soluble fibers: Inclusion of soluble fiber in the diet (10-30 grams per day) results in 10% reduction of LDL cholesterol. Intake of soluble fiber gives a satiety feeling, which in turn reduces food intake and hence cholesterol level. Psyllium, pectin, and oat bran are rich in soluble fibers.
4) Go nuts: Nuts like almonds, pistachios, walnuts, and hazelnuts are rich in omega-3 fatty acids, antioxidants, fiber, minerals, vitamins, and unsaturated fatty acids, which aid in lowering of LDL level by 5% and improving HDL level. The recommended quantity is a small handful (1.5 ounces), 4-5 times a week.
5) Increase intake of foods rich in omega-3 fatty acids: These are known as essential fatty acids as they are necessary for the body but the body cannot generate it. Oily fish, flaxseed, canola oil, and walnut are a good dietary source of omega-3 fatty acids. AHA recommends consuming 2 servings of fish per week for a person without heart disease and at least one serving of fish for those with a known heart disorder. It is seen that the consumption of 4 grams of omega-3 fatty acids per day is seen to improve the HDL level by 1-3%.
5 Indian Foods That Lower Cholesterol
When we are diagnosed with high cholesterol levels, we straight away start popping pills. Having high cholesterol levels does not mean we are ill, it means that we are not eating right.
By changing our dietary habits and staying away from processed and fat rich food, we can g keep our cholesterol levels in check. Here are some Indian foods that help in lowering cholesterol levels:
Methi seeds are rich in a compound called saponins that reduce cholesterol absorption from food. They also help in lowering the production of cholesterol in the body
How to use: Roast methi seeds till they turn brown. Make a powder from the roasted seeds. and add one spoon of powder to a glass of to warm water and have it daily
Garlic contains allicin which helps lower total cholesterol, bad cholesterol, and triglycerides. It also prevents fat deposition within blood vessels.
How to use: Crush 2- 3 garlic cloves and add them to a glass of water. Take it empty stomach every morning.
Onions are rich sources of antioxidants. They also help reduce bad cholesterol and increase good cholesterol levels in the body.
How to use: Add sliced onion to your daily salads regularly
Walnuts are rich sources of mono and polyunsaturated fatty acids and help in reducing cholesterol levels. They also help in keeping blood vessels healthy
How to use: Take a handful of walnuts ( 40g) daily. You can add them to breakfast cereals, fruit salads or take them as a snack. Make sure the walnuts are not salted or sugar coated.
5. Flax seeds
Flax seeds also called linseed or Alsi are packed with omega 3 fatty acids. They are rich in fiber that binds to cholesterol and decreases its absorption from foods. Flax seeds also help in increasing good cholesterol levels.
How to use: Grind the seeds into a fine powder. Add one teaspoon of this powder to water and have it first thing in the morning daily. you can also sprinkle a spoonful of flax seeds to breakfast cereals, chutnies or salads.
Cholesterol is not your enemy and with above mentioned dietary modifications you can easily make cholesterol your friend. Know someone who needs to get their cholesterol under control? Share this article and tell them how!