5 foods that lower your cholesterol

A bowl of oats are a pretty fabulous food for heart health.
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A bowl of oats are a pretty fabulous food for heart health.

There are many risk factors for heart disease and the more of these factors affect you, the higher your overall risk is. Your cholesterol levels are one such risk factor. In other words, if you have no other risk factors this may not be a problem, but since it is one risk factor that in most people is responsive to changes made in your diet and your lifestyle, then it's worth your while giving it some attention.

When it comes to cholesterol you want to know your profile including total cholesterol, LDL (so called "bad" cholesterol) and HDL (so called "good" cholesterol). Studies have shown that reducing your LDL cholesterol by 10 percent reduces your risk of having a heart attack or stroke by 20-30 percent. You also want HDL to be high as this is involved in collecting cholesterol from around the body and returning it to the liver. One of the best indicators of risk is the total to HDL cholesterol ratio. Finally, your triglyceride level is also important, with lower levels associated with lower risk.

So what foods can you eat to improve your cholesterol profile? Here are my top five:

Eating a handful of nuts a day has been shown to lower your risk of heart disease by 30 to 50 per cent.
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Eating a handful of nuts a day has been shown to lower your risk of heart disease by 30 to 50 per cent.

1. NUTS
Eating a handful of nuts a day has been shown to lower your risk of heart disease by 30 to 50 per cent. That's pretty extraordinary for one little plant food.

The benefits are likely to come from a number of factors. Nuts are rich in unsaturated fats and when these replace saturated fats in the diet they reduce LDL and boost HDL – exactly what we want. Nuts also help to lower triglycerides and total cholesterol levels. For best cholesterol lowering results aim to eat two handfuls a day. All nuts are beneficial and so mix them up for variety.

2. OATS
Oats are probably the most famous cholesterol lowering food. They contain a special type of soluble fibre called beta-glucan that has been clinically proven to lower total and LDL cholesterol levels. Soluble fibres absorb water in the gut to form a gel and this has a number of benefits. It slows down digestion, so that any carbohydrates consumed at the same time are absorbed more slowly, helping you to control your blood glucose levels.

Beta-glucan has the added benefit of binding cholesterol from bile acids and from foods consumed, carrying them out of the body. Plus, many toxins are bound up and safely excreted. The fibres also then act as gold start fuel to the beneficial bacteria living in the colon – this has a further influence on cholesterol production in the liver. So all up, oats are a pretty fabulous food for heart health.

Oats are probably the most famous cholesterol lowering food.
Sarah Tuck

Oats are probably the most famous cholesterol lowering food.

3. BETAHEART

The only trouble with oats is getting enough beta-glucan to make a real difference. Studies show that you need 3g of beta-glucan for a clinical effect and that takes around three bowls of oatmeal. This is where BetaHeart makes things easy. It is an all-natural supplement drink made from oats and barley (the other major food source of beta-glucan). Each sachet contains 3.4g of beta-glucan so all you need is one a day. They are low GI and will have the added benefit of helping in blood glucose control, have no added sugar and nothing artificial added. I recommend BetaHeart as an all-natural way of assisting in the management of high cholesterol. Even if your doctor has prescribed a statin drug to treat your cholesterol, BetaHeart can offer a synergetic benefit.

4. EXTRA VIRGIN OLIVE OIL

Extra virgin oil is really a unique oil in that it is simply the juice of the olive fruit and is not refined in any way, ...
KIRK HARGREAVES

Extra virgin oil is really a unique oil in that it is simply the juice of the olive fruit and is not refined in any way, unlike highly processed and refined seed oils.

The Mediterranean diet is one of the most studied dietary patterns and the evidence is compelling proving this to be one of the healthiest ways to eat. There are many aspects of this diet that contribute to its benefits, but undoubtedly the use of extra virgin olive oil as the principle fat is one of them.

It really is a unique oil in that it is simply the juice of the olive fruit and is not refined in any way, unlike highly processed and refined seed oils. The resulting oil is rich in phytonutrients with antioxidant and other protective properties. The fat itself is predominantly monounsaturated and therefore stable for cooking, while helping to lower LDL and boost HDL. All up its head and shoulders above all other oils and fats for heart and overall health.

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5. AVOCADO

Aside from olives, the only other fruit with significant fat is the avocado and it has similar heart health benefits. The fat is mostly monounsaturated, so particularly if you use avocado in place of a saturated fat like butter, you can make a significant difference to your cholesterol profile.

Avocadoes are also good for fibre, they provide vitamin E and folate – all important nutrients for overall and heart health.

Dr Joanna McMillan is a nutritional scientist and accredited practicing dietitian.

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