Medication is not the only way to lower cholesterol levels. Dietary changes are also recommended.
Cholesterol and diet
Cholesterol is a naturally produced substance by the human body, as it is needed for various key functions. That said, a portion of cholesterol also comes from diet.
Hypercholesterolemia is a condition that affects thousands of Canadians. It is characterized by the elevation of "bad cholesterol" in the blood. It constitutes a significant risk factor for cardiovascular diseases, including myocardial infarction (heart attack) and cerebrovascular accident (AVC or stroke).
In the case of hypercholesterolemia, it is advisable to consider dietary changes. Weight loss, exercise and quitting smoking are other things to consider to lower cardiovascular risk. These lifestyle changes should always complement the use of medication.
People affected by hypercholesterolemia should reduce their consumption of certain products or avoid them altogether.
High fat products
Foods high in fat (lipids) increase cholesterol levels, consequently, they contribute to the risk of cardiovascular diseases. It is advisable not only to modify the quantity, but the quality (type) of ingested fat as well. Dietary lipids should represent less than 35% of daily ingested calories.
There are different types of lipids. It is generally recommended to limit the consumption of foods high in saturated fats and trans fats (monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats are preferable).
Here is some valuable advice to this effect.
- Avoid butter and milk products that are high in fat. Opt for margarine composed of vegetable matter. Choose low fat milk products (e.g., skim or 1% milk).
- Choose fish and lean meats, such as chicken. Red meat generally contains more fat. Avoid cold cuts, which contain a lot of fat.
- Avoid deep fried foods. Fry your food in olive, canola or sunflower oil.
- Opt for fresh foods instead of processed foods.
High sugar products
Nowadays, many foods contain too much sugar. An excessive consumption of sugar causes bad cholesterol to rise, especially triglycerides, and good cholesterol to fall. Consuming less sugar also has the advantage of reducing caloric intake, therefore helping to maintain a healthy weight.
Fibre has many health benefits. It is generally divided into two categories: soluble and insoluble fibre. An increased daily consumption of fibre can help reduce the risk of obesity and even promote weight loss. Soluble fibre also helps to normalize blood cholesterol levels.
In general, Canadians consume roughly half of the daily recommended fibre intake, which is 25 g for women and 38 g for men.
Choose the following foods to increase your soluble fibre intake:
- Whole-wheat breads and cereals: oat bran, oatmeal, barley, quinoa, etc.
- Legumes: kidney beans, chickpeas, lentils, etc.
- Nuts: pistachio nuts, peanuts, walnuts, etc.
- Vegetables: beans, eggplant, kale, spinach, avocado, etc.
- Fruits: apples, strawberries, citrus fruits, etc.
A supplement may be considered to ensure a sufficient fibre intake. There are several natural source products available at the pharmacy. Your pharmacist can provide you with information about them.
Omega-3 fatty acid-rich products
These nutrients are known for their ability to lower cardiovascular risk by normalizing blood cholesterol levels, among other things. Read this text for additional information on the subject.
Some additional tips
In order to make good choices at the grocery store, the restaurant or on special occasions (e.g., holidays or sugaring off time), here is some advice.
- Read the labels on the foods you buy. Pay attention to the list of ingredients and the nutrition facts table, which will provide information on saturated and trans fat, cholesterol, sugar and fibre content, among other things.
- Choose restaurants that offer a healthy menu.
- Eat a salad as an appetizer or to accompany the meal.
- Avoid having bread and butter with your meal or replace butter with olive oil and balsamic vinegar.
- Choose foods that are baked, grilled or poached instead of fried or breaded.
- Replace French fries with salad or vegetables.
- Ask for sauces and dressings to be served on the side.
- Avoid rich and sweet desserts (cake, pastries, cookies, chocolate, etc.). Opt for fruit salad instead.
- Drink water instead of drinks that are high in sugar and fat.
- Limit your portions and opt for variety.
- Make choices that are aligned with the Mediterranean diet.
Speak to your pharmacist for additional information about cholesterol and the ways to control it.