You may have noticed that beef and eggs have become four-letter words. It’s all because of cholesterol, a substance that’s gotten reputation for breaking more hearts than a high school prom queen.
But cholesterol is not entirely bad. The human body actually needs it – and produces it to help protect nerves and build new cells and hormones. In fact, our bodies get all the cholesterol they need by making it on their own. The trouble start when we add to the cholesterol our bodies produce, which can happen when we eat the all – American diet of cheeseburgers, steaks, pizza, ice cream or any food that is or includes an animal product.
Excess cholesterol settles along arterial walls and that excess can clog arteries and restrict blood flow, leading to angina pain, heart attack or stroke. (Cholesterol is also a leading cause of gallstones).
If your doctor has determined that you have high levels of cholesterol in your blood, you probably have been told the importance of limiting or eliminating it – which means reducing or avoiding its only dietary sources: meat, eggs, dairy products and the foods that contain them. But here are some other ways to control your cholesterol with diet.
If all this talk about good and bad cholesterol is confusing, take heart. Here’s how to understand it.
Serum cholesterol is the amount of this fatty substance in your bloodstream. Your serum cholesterol is what your doctor measures in a cholesterol test. A reading under 200 is desirable; a reading over 240 may be dangerous and is cause for concern.
Dietary cholesterol is what you eat. For instance, an egg has 213 milligrams; an apple has none. The American Heart Association recommends that you eat no more than 300 milligrams a day.
Low-density lipoprotein (LDL) is the bad cholesterol that clogs arteries. The lower you’re LDL, the better.
High-density lipoprotein (HDL) is the good cholesterol that scours artery walls and helps remove harmful LDL. The higher you’re HDL the better.
Stock up on vitamin E
Scientists have discovered that we have both good (high-density lipoprotein, or HDL) and bad (low-density lipoprotein, or LDL) cholesterol running through our bloodstream. Consuming 400 international units of vitamin E each day may help keep the bad cholesterol from oxidizing – an internal “rusting” process that causes the cholesterol to harden into arterial plaque, which in turn causes heart disease. Vitamin E also raises the level of good cholesterol.
“Taking vitamin E supplements help prevent the cholesterol in your body from plaguing, so it does less damage,” says Karen E Burke, M.D., Ph.D., a dermatologist and dermatologic surgeon in New York City who has studied the various effects of vitamin E. Vitamin E is found in vegetable oils, nuts and grains, but it would be very difficult to obtain 400 international units daily from diet alone. Be sure to check with your doctor, though, before beginning a supplement program.
Eat breakfast every morning
Breakfast skippers tend to have higher cholesterol levels than those start off their morning with a bellyful, according to studies. One reason may be that breakfast skippers make up for missing the morning feast by munching on unhealthy snacks later on, suggests John L. Stanton, Ph.D., professor of food marketing at St. Joseph’s University in Philadelphia.
Research also shows that those who eat ready –to-eat cereal for breakfast have lower cholesterol levels than those choosing other morning entrées.
Nibble throughout the day
One way to lower your cholesterol is simply to change how often you eat. Research has shown that large meals trigger the release of large amounts of insulin, according to David Jenkins, M. D., Ph.D., director of the Clinical Nutrition and Risk Factor Modification Center at St. Michael’s Hospital at the University of Toronto. Insulin release in turn stimulates the production of an enzyme that increases cholesterol production by the liver.
Having smaller, more frequent meals (but not increasing overall calories) may limit insulin release and play a role in cholesterol control and heart disease prevention, speculates Dr. Jenkins.
Add vitamin C to your menu
Other vitamins and minerals also have beneficial effects on cholesterol. Research by Paul Jacques, Sc.D., an epidemiologist at the U.S. Department of Agriculture Human Nutrition Research Center on Aging at Tufts University in Boston, shows that people with diets high in Vitamin C tend to have high HDL level. Vitamin C is especially beneficial when you get it from fruits and vegetables that also have cholesterol –lowering fiber called pectin. Pectin surrounds cholesterol and helps transport it out of your digestive system before it gets into your blood. Vitamin C-rich, pectin-rich foods include citrus fruits, tomatoes potatoes, strawberries, apples and spinach.
Go heavy on garlic
Vampires aren’t the only thing garlic keeps away. In large doses –at least seven cloves daily – this food can significantly reduce cholesterol. Of course, that’s probably more garlic than most people eat in a month. To get a similar benefit, try odorless garlic pills. When people with moderately high cholesterol took four capsules a day of an odorless liquid garlic extract called Kyolic, their cholesterol levels initially rose but then fell an average of 44 points after six months, according to a research study headed by Benjamin Lau,M.D., Ph.D., at Loma Linda University School of Medicine in Loma Linda, California. You can find garlic pills at most health food stores.
Don’t depend on decaf
Decaffeinated coffee actually raises LDL levels more than regular brew, so it’s the worst beverage selection if you have high cholesterol, according to Dr. Jenkins. It may be because the beans used of the decaf are stronger than “regular” beans. Frequent coffee drinkers (those who drink it daily )typically have a 7 percent cholesterol increase, as shown in a study at Stanford University in Stanford, California.
Gravitate toward grapes
There’s a cholesterol –lowering compound in virtually all products containing grapes skin, including wine, according to pomologist Leroy Creasy, Ph.D., of Cornell University College of Agriculture and Life Science in Ithaca, New York. You can take advantage of these cholesterol –clobbering qualities by drinking grape juice or simply eating grapes.
Reach for grapefruit
In a study conducted by James Cerda, M. D., a gastroenterologist and professor of medicine at the University of Florida Health Science Center in Gainesville, people who ate at least 1 ½ cups of grapefruit sections very day lowered their cholesterol over 7 percent in two months. Grapefruit is among the fruits that contain cholesterol –lowering pectin.
Cook up some beans
Lima beans, kidney beans, navy beans, soyabeans and other legumes can all help lower your cholesterol, according to James W. Anderson, M.D., an expert in cholesterol research who is professor of medicine and clinical nutrition at the University Of Kentucky College Of Medicine in Lexington. The reason these high-fiber legumes are so effective is because they, too contain pectin. The more of these beans you can eat, the greater the benefits.
In one study, Dr. Anderson asked men to eat 1 ½ cups of cooked beans a day. The result? Their cholesterol plummeted 20 percent in just three weeks. You probably won’t go for much, but the more beans, the better – and high-fiber diets have much other benefit besides. Look for a cookbook or two that have great recipes with beans, and try to get more in your diet.
Munch a couple of carrots
Bugs Bunny’s favourite entre’e is a boon to arteries, because carrots have plenty of cholesterol –lowering pectin. “It may be possible for people with high cholesterol to lower it 10 to 20 percent just by eating two carrots a day,” says Peter D. Hoagland, Ph.D., a researcher at the U.S. Department of Agriculture Eastern Regional Research Center in Philadelphia.
Reference: prevention magazine health books