The Best Foods to Help Reduce Your Cholesterol Levels
Stop and think about the things you need to survive every day and you immediately think of air and water. Not many people would include “cholesterol” in that mix.
The human body needs cholesterol in order to properly function. Not only is cholesterol in the human bloodstream, it is also in every cell of the body, helping to produce vitamin D, cell membranes and bile acids. Cholesterol enhances neurological activity and even aids in forming our memories.
Another fact that many people are not aware of is that dramatically lowering cholesterol can potentially damage our health. The liver produces about 75 percent of the body’s total cholesterol. Without it, humans cannot make testosterone, cortisone, estrogen and other necessary hormones.
The bottom line: healthy cholesterol is our friend!
Many health care practitioners believe that the body would not produce substances that can harm it. But in the US, cholesterol has been shown to be the villain in good health choices and perhaps one of the most tainted substances we can consume. From this standpoint, millions of people around the globe have reduced their intake of fat or tried to eliminate it completely from their diet. Physicians only help this cause when they convince people that cholesterol is linked to heart disease.
Getting Cholesterol Levels Right
- Why we need it.
- Why defining“good cholesterol” or “bad cholesterol” is not as simple as we think
- Why using total cholesterol levels is not a good indicator of a person’s risk for heart disease.
Most people are probably asking themselves right about now, “Why is everyone saying cholesterol is bad if it isn’t?”
A special panel from 2004 composed of physicians from the US government’s National Cholesterol Education Program concluded that people at risk for heart disease should reduce their low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol (often described as ‘bad cholesterol’) to extremely low levels. The team recommended levels of less than 70 for those people at very high risk and less than 100 mg for those at moderate risk.
Multiple cholesterol-lowering drugs were typically needed in order to lower cholesterol to such low levels and guidelines were created to deal with the prescribing of these drugs.
It became apparent that this huge new market for the drugs to lower cholesterol in the US would not have come into being without the new guidelines. However, these guidelines are still being practiced by many of today’s physicians when studies now show such acts may be ill-advised and dangerous to one’s health.
Additional studies reveal that these cholesterol-lowering drugs are, for the most part, ineffective. They have little or no medical benefits and potentially dangerous side effects.
The idea behind cholesterol-lowering medication is that they work by inhibiting an enzyme necessary for the body to produce cholesterol in the liver. Statin drugs also impair some very important biochemical functions in the body, such as causing a depletion of the body’s supply of the coenzyme CoQ10. A loss of this substance can cause soreness, heart failure, fatigue and muscle weakness.
Foods that have been found to reduce the unhealthy or ‘bad’ form of cholesterol
1. Foods which contain soluble fiber: These include: oatmeal, oats, oat bran as well as other high fiber vegetables and fruits such as: apples, kidney beans, guava, pears, okra, egg plants, grapefruit (please note: grapefruits can affect a number of medicines – please read the label or check with your medical practitioner), berries (blueberries, raspberries, strawberries), oranges and prunes.
2. Tree nuts: The best choices are almond, pistachios and walnut. These nuts have been found to have a beneficial effect on LDL levels as they are rich in mono- and polyunsaturated fatty acids which helps to keep blood vessels healthy.
3. Avocados: Avocados are rich in many nutrients and are a great source of monounsaturated fatty acids (MUFAs). Recent studies have shown that adding avocados to your diet on a regular basis can help improve LDL levels in people who are overweight or obese.
4. Dark chocolate: Dark chocolate has been found to be rich in anti-oxidants, including one particular anti-oxidant called flavonoids. Flavonoids have been found to help reduce LDL levels.
Please note: dark chocolate can contain high amounts of sugar and saturated fats such as butter. It is better to consume this in moderation, and choose products which are unsweetened (they may taste a bit bitter), have low sugar, or have been sweetened with stevia – which has produces less of a sugar load on the body. If you are diabetic or are sensitive to glucose please consult with your doctor.
5. Plant based fats: Healthy plant based fats such as olives or cold pressed organic olive oil has also been shown to have a beneficial effect on LDL levels. The particular ingredient found to have a cholesterol lowering effect is known as “plant stanols”. These work by reducing the absorption of cholesterol in the intestines.
Good cholesterol levels and good heart health go hand in hand. This means you should also ensure that you reduce your saturated fat (from animal meats, non-organic butter and dairy) intake and increase your intake of foods containing omega 3 fatty acids. The best source of omega 3 fatty acids is wild non-farmed oily fish (eg. salmon, herring, sardines, trout, mackerels, halibut, fresh tuna); however other sources (which should be consumed in moderation) include: organic free range eggs, organic butter from grass fed cows.
The Real Culprit Behind Many Health Problems
Even though cholesterol continues to be perceived as the villain in our general health care picture, the real culprit often is inflammation.
- Inflammation can be linked to many health problems, yet most conventional health care practitioners ignore it. Inflammation is the body’s natural yet complex response to threats, such as irritants, pathogens and damaged cells.
- Inflammation is your body’s complex biological response to threats, such as pathogens, damaged cells, or irritants.
As an example, if one’s arteries are damaged, inflammation can then allow the blood vessels to constrict, the blood thickens, and the ensuring damage is “patched” by a harmful protective scar known as plaque.
No cell in the body can form without the aid of cholesterol, so the liver produces more cholesterol and puts it in the bloodstream in order to replace the cells damaged during periods of inflammation. This plaque, along with the sudden thickening of the blood and the constricting of the blood vessels, can definitely increase a person’s risk for heart attacks and high blood pressure.
Cholesterol Levels That are Too Low
When cholesterol levels are too low, all sorts of negative things can happen to the human body. We need to remember that every one of our cells must have cholesterol to thrive.
A large research study undertaken by Dutch scientists discovered that men who had chronically low levels of cholesterol had a much higher risk of developing depressive symptoms. Some researchers believe this is because cholesterol is known to affect the metabolism of serotonin, which regulates mood.
A Canadian study found a similar link when researchers concluded those participants in the lowest quarter of total cholesterol concentration had more than six times the risk of committing suicide than those who were in the highest quarter. Numerous studies also show support for a connection between lowered cholesterol levels and behavior that is violent. Again, lowered cholesterol levels may lead to lowered serotonin activity in the brain, which in turn leads to increased violence.
In one analysis of more than 41,000 patient records, researchers found that those individuals who were taking stain drugs in order to lower cholesterol may have had a higher risk of cancer. Other studies link low cholesterol to the onslaught of Parkinson’s disease.
These studies indicate that any level under 150 is probably too low. The optimum number for cholesterol should be around 200.
This concept of high cholesterol only came about when physicians learned how to measure these levels.
A Few Misconceptions About Food
For years there has been a misconception that people should avoid foods such as eggs and saturated fats in order to protect heart health. Fats from animal sources do contain cholesterol – but the confusion arises from what could be called the “lipid hypothesis.”
This misguided principle developed by nutrition pioneer Ancel Keys in the 1950s links dietary fat to coronary heart disease. The health care community back then accepted the theory and began encouraging people to cut out red meat, butter, dairy, eggs, bacon, sausage and other fats they called “artery clogging” from the diet.
In reality it seems that this information was “cherry picked,” using available data from just six of 22 countries that contributed statistics. Today it believed this misconception led to the diabetes and obesity epidemics we see in the current population from eating a low-fat diet.
Many modern studies show that Keys’ theory was incorrect and that high quality (especially organic) saturated fats are actually healthy.
In fact, a survey by the Medical Research Council found that men who ate butter ran half the risk of developing heart disease than their counterparts who consumed margarine. As people cut out animal fats they were hungrier, thereby consuming more processed foods, more vegetable oils and, perhaps worst of all, larger quantities of high fructose corn syrup. All of these products are disasters nutritionally and can lead to increased inflammation and thereby increased cholesterol levels.
Good sources of healthy fats include: organic grass fed meats, organic free range eggs, wild oily fish (eg. salmon, trout, sardines), avocados, organic cold pressed coconut butter, organic butter from grass fed cows, organic cold pressed olive oil, seeds (sunflower, pumpkin, chia), nuts (macadamia, almonds, walnuts).
The Causes of Chronic Inflammation
There is a laundry list of items that cause chronic inflammation, including:
- Oxidized cholesterol (rancid cholesterol such as that found in overcooked scrambled eggs, vegetable oils such as sunflower, soy, canola)
- Consuming large quantities of grains and sugar
- Eating foods that are cooked at high temperatures i.e. fried foods
- Eating trans-fats
- Living a sedentary lifestyle
- Chronic stress
Eight Simple Steps to Controlling Inflammation
You can control inflammation with natural choices. Follow these simple rules:
- Ensure you are consuming high-quality, oily fish (wild / non-farmed) based omega-3 fats. One good choice: krill oil. Fish and krill oils can also be consumed in high quality supplements.
- Reduce grains and sugars from the diet with a plan for completely eliminating them in the future.
- Raw foods should make up a good portion of the daily diet.
- Eat (preferably) healthy fats These can include:
- Reduce unhealthy saturated fats from your diet. These include: non-organic animal meats, non-organic dairy.
- Get enough exercise. Physical activity increases the circulation and the blood flow throughout the body. This enhances the immune system, allowing it to fight illnesses before they can spread.
- Avoid drinking excessive amounts of alcohol and smoking.
- Address emotional challenges before they cause stress.