When the doctor measures your cholesterol levels, two types are being considered: First, LDL, otherwise known as the "bad cholesterol"; and second, HDL, considered the "good cholesterol." LDL delivers cholesterol to the body. Too much of it is a bad thing as it can build up in the arterial walls and restrict blood flow. HDL removes cholesterol from the bloodstream. Too little HDL is also risk factor for future heart disease.
High cholesterol levels are attributed to several factors, such as genetics, dietary choices, body weight and smoking. Fortunately, you can choose to eat certain foods that will help lower cholesterol naturally, reducing the risk of a future heart attack or stroke.
Dietary tips to keep your cholesterol levels within a normal range
• Switch from refined white grains to whole-grain items loaded with fibre. Look for the words "whole grains" or "100 per cent whole wheat" on your food labels. Breads, pastas and even cookies are now available made with whole grains; as well as whole wheat, look for other whole grains such as kamut, spelt and rye.
• Enjoy garlic in as many recipes as you can for its cholesterol-lowering effects.
• Eat seven to 10 walnuts or almonds per day. Almonds and walnuts are loaded with beneficial fats called omega-3s, which protect against heart disease and high cholesterol.
• Eat oily cold-water fish such as salmon or tuna for its heart-healthy fats.
• Sprinkle ground flaxseeds on your cereal or salads or include in recipes for a delicious nutty flavour and a number of health benefits. Studies have shown consumption of flaxseeds to lower total cholesterol and LDL cholesterol.
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• When eating fruits such as apples or pears, keep the skins on to boost your fibre intake.
• Have some oatmeal for breakfast. Oatmeal offers high levels of dietary fibre, which has been shown to be beneficial in lowering cholesterol in over 40 studies. Oat fibre mixes with cholesterol in the small intestine and "mops up" excess cholesterol so that it is carried out of the body instead of being absorbed by the blood. (Try this recipe for apple oatmeal.)
• Add soy to your diet. Studies show that 25 grams of soy protein per day can help to lower cholesterol and play a part in heart health.
• Load up your plate with colourful vegetables. Filled with fibre and phytonutrients (plant chemicals that prevent disease), they are sure winners to lower cholesterol naturally.
• Eat more beans. Beans contain soluble fibre that helps to optimize digestion and keep weight and cholesterol down. Add them to a salad or enjoy bean veggie patties instead of a regular beef burger.
In addition to incorporating the foods above into your meals, keeping cholesterol at a normal level also has a lot to do with what you are not eating. Eliminating trans fats from the diet and keeping refined sugars and flours to a minimum are necessary steps to take. A high intake of sugar has been linked with lowering of the "good cholesterol," HDL. Also make sure to restrict your intake of saturated fats such as full-fat meats and cheeses. Finally, don't forget to exercise regularly, and make sure to have regular checkups with your doctor to track your progress.
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Dr. Joey Shulman is the author of bestseller The Natural Makeover Diet (Wiley, 2005). For more information, visit www.drjoey.com.