Beat Heart Disease by Improving Your Cholesterol
Find out how to improve your cholesterol levels with expert advice from trainer and nutrition expert Scott Baptie
Healthy cholesterol levels are crucial if you want to avoid serious cardiovascular disease – but what exactly should you eat (or avoid) to achieve and maintain them? It’s been the subject of much debate over the past decade, as findings from a host of new scientific studies have completely changed our understanding of cholesterol and diet, rewriting the rules on what you should and shouldn’t eat to improve your own blood cholesterol levels in the process. Here to explain more is trainer and nutrition expert Scott Baptie.
What is cholesterol?
It’s a compound that plays a number of important roles in your body, including the building and repairing of cell membranes, increasing the communication between cells and assisting with hormone production (including muscle-enhancing testosterone). It does this while circulating in your bloodstream, where it binds with protein particles to form lipoproteins.
I’ve heard there are different types – is that true?
Yes, there are two: high-density lipoproteins – known as HDL or “good” cholesterol – which contain more protein than cholesterol, and low-density lipoproteins – known as LDL or “bad” cholesterol – which contain more cholesterol than protein.
Why is HDL good for you and LDL bad for you?
The problem with LDL is that its membranes are weak and liable to break off. This causes your blood to clot, which increases the risk of developing problems such as heart attacks, strokes and heart disease. HDL counteracts this clotting effect by catching stray LDL and carrying it away from your arteries and back to the liver where it can be expelled from the body or re-used. The more HDL you have and the less LDL, the better your overall cholesterol health will be.
Will eating certain foods raise my LDL levels?
Eating foods that contain refined sugars and processed carbohydrates may lead to inflammation in the body, which means LDL is more likely to clot your blood. Avoiding these foods is crucial for good cholesterol health.
What can I eat to boost my HDL levels?
Eating a diet based on lean meats, healthy oils, green vegetables and some fruit and dairy will help you maintain healthy cholesterol levels. For an extra boost, increase your intake of omega 3-rich foods such as oily fish, and eat more food that contains quercetin, such as garlic and onions – both will help to reduce inflammation.
What about foods that are high in cholesterol?
It used to be thought that eating high-cholesterol foods raised blood cholesterol levels, but this isn’t the case. Most high-cholesterol foods actually offer health benefits and have no significant impact on blood cholesterol.
Can exercise affect cholesterol?
Exercise has a positive affect on cholesterol health because it stimulates enzymes in the body that help to move LDL to your liver, while increasing the size of the protein particles that form lipoproteins, which improves your ratio of HDL to LDL.
So how do I maintain good cholesterol health?
It’s a simple strategy really – if you stick to a diet based on whole foods with anti-inflammatory properties, avoid junk food and exercise regularly, you should have nothing to worry about.
Are there other health benefits associated with cholesterol?
Good cholesterol health will help your body to maintain optimum hormone levels, which is crucial for body composition – especially if you’re trying to build muscle.
Which high-cholesterol foods are actually beneficial to my health?
There are a few high-cholesterol foods that offer a variety of health benefits without raising your bad cholesterol levels:
- Eggs contain roughly 7g of muscle-building protein each. You can also buy omega 3-enriched eggs to boost your HDL levels.
- Butter is a great source of vitamins D, E and K, all of which are fat-soluble, and therefore easily absorbed with the fat in butter.
- Pâté is rich in energy-boosting vitamin B12 and immunity-strengthening vitamin A.
What are the best foods for lowering an already high cholesterol level?
- Oranges contain pectin, a soluble fibre that forms a gooey mass in your stomach. This helps to trap cholesterol and carry it out of your body before it has a chance to be absorbed into the bloodstream. Be sure to actually eat the oranges though – drinking the juice will not give the same fibre benefits.
- Beans and lentils are packed with fibre, including a lots of the soluble type, which is required for a healthy heart. They can also be creatively incorporated into any meal of the day and they’re a great low-fat replacement for animal protein.
- Sardines are full of omega 3 fatty acids that lower LDL cholesterol. They’re also potent anti-inflammatories that reduce your blood’s levels of triglycerides – notorious artery-cloggers.
- Pistachio nuts – a 2008 study revealed that munching just one or two handfuls of these moreish nuts per day for one month could significantly reduce LDL cholesterol in people who suffer from elevated blood levels. They’re a source of phytosterols, the natural plant compounds that stop absorption of dietary cholesterol.
Scott Baptie is a physique and sports nutrition specialist, natural bodybuilder and director of FoodForFitness.co.uk