The body naturally creates cholesterol but foods such as eggs, organ meats, and dairy products contain a lot of cholesterol. It is important in the functioning of every cell wall throughout the body so needs to be transported around the body. It is the material that the body uses to make other vital substances, including certain hormones.
Dr Paul Lutaakome, a nutritionist at Jinja Referral Hospital, says too much of the low density lipoproteins (LDLs) or bad cholesterol can cause coronary heart disease and heart attacks. You can get too much LDL from eating the wrong foods, diabetes, liver and kidney disease and an underactive thyroid gland.
You can take drugs to help lower your LDLs or you can try a regime of eating right, exercising, and losing weight. Some foods can help you lower your cholesterol level (and may help you lose weight).
Fruits are rich in soluble fibre, which helps lower cholesterol levels and slows the production of natural cholesterol by your liver. Apples, oranges and citrus fruits, berries and grapes are very helpful.
“Reducing the intake of saturated fat is a great way to lower your cholesterol and have a healthy heart. These fats can be replaced with unsaturated fats. Avocado is an unsaturated fat that is also rich in fibre,” he says.
Avocados are very versatile and can be used in the place of mayonnaise, on sandwiches, salads or smoothies.
Instead of eating white flour products, Dr Lutaakome recommends that you go for whole grains such as oats, millet and maize among others. These often keep you feeling full for a long time and have a low fat content.
The grains are rich in beta glucan, a type of fibre which can help you lower your cholesterol. Beta glucan found in the outer layer of the grains limits the amount of cholesterol absorbed from the gut into the blood.
Refined grains usually have their outer layer removed, which means they lose some of the nutrients, for example, white bread and white pasta.
Nuts are rich in protein, vitamin E, magnesium and potassium and plant nutrients which help keep your body healthy and stave off disease.
“These keep the cholesterol levels in a balance because they are rich in unsaturated fats and lower in saturated fats. They are also high in fibre which prevents cholesterol from being absorbed into the blood stream from the gut,” he says.
Using legumes such as beans, peas, and lentils in the place of refined grains and meat may help lower cholesterol. The fibre, minerals and plant-based protein in legumes can help lower LDL.
Soya beans and the foods that are made from them are prefect for lowering cholesterol. They contain protein, vitamins and minerals and are low in saturated fat.
Like fruits, many vegetables are rich in soluble fibre and offer a wide range of nutrients. They are low in calories and help in weight loss. They protect you from heart disease, stroke and some cancers because they contain vitamins and minerals and plant chemicals which help you stay healthy and prevent disease.
They can be eaten raw, roasted, or streamed. Avoid frying vegetables because this ruins their nutrients. Also avoid adding cheese, butter and a lot of salt. Vegetables such as cauliflower, spinach, egg plants, broccoli, okra, carrots are all excellent choices.
Eating foods rich in omega-3 fatty acids is a healthy step in maintaining low cholesterol levels. Omega-3 fatty acids have heart-healthy benefits, including reducing blood pressure. It can be obtained from fish, sesame seeds, walnuts and flaxseeds.
“Besides feeding, there are other lifestyle changes that you need to implement in order to lower cholesterol levels. These may include regular exercise, losing weight, quitting smoking and drinking alcohol in moderation,” Dr Paul Lutaakome, a nutritionist at Jinja Referral Hospital, remarks.