Have you been told that you have high cholesterol?
You’re not the only one! More than 40% of people in England have high cholesterol, leaving them at a significant risk of heart disease.1https://www.england.nhs.uk/2021/09/nhs-cholesterol-busting-jab-to-save-thousands-of-lives/
What is Cholesterol?
Cholesterol is a fatty substance produced naturally by the liver and found in the blood. There are two main types of cholesterol – LDL (bad) cholesterol and HDL (good) cholesterol.2https://www.bda.uk.com/resource/cholesterol.html
Unfortunately, most adults in the UK consume excessive calories through food and drinks, too much saturated fat, salt, and sugar, and insufficient fibre, fruits, vegetables, or oily fish.3https://www.nhs.uk/live-well/eat-well/how-to-eat-a-balanced-diet/eating-a-balanced-diet/ The good news is, with a few simple diet and lifestyle changes you can reduce your high cholesterol or lower your risk of developing high cholesterol levels.
What can you do about it?
1. Eat a Colourful Diet
Ensure to eat a wide variety of different foods, aiming for a minimum of 30 different plant foods each week – think vegetables, fruit, wholegrains, nuts and seeds, legumes, pulses, herbs, and spices.
Think about “eating the rainbow” – This means eating fruits and vegetables from each colour, and rotating your food sources of each colour. E.g. if your green vegetable today is broccoli, have asparagus tomorrow, if you’re having a red pepper today, have a tomato the next day, have carrots one day and then swap for butternut squash, etc. etc. Try this Super Salad to see how easy it can be!
Anthocyanins – beneficial compounds contained in berries plus many other plant foods – have been shown to help reduce LDL cholesterol levels in overweight people. Simply eat a colourful-rich variety of fruits and vegetables to add more anthocyanins to your diet.
2. Boost your Fibre
Increase your intake of soluble fibre. The World Health Organisation recommends 30 g of fibre per day, but the average UK adult is eating less than half of this. Soluble fibre can decrease the absorption of cholesterol into the bloodstream.4https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/high-blood-cholesterol/in-depth/reduce-cholesterol/art-20045935 Soluble fibre is found in oats, kidney beans, barley, peas, carrots, apples, pears, psyllium, and lots of other dietary sources. Try this family-friendly soup recipe filled with lots of prebiotic fibre. CG Complete Prebiotic is the most diverse prebiotic available anywhere – a quick and easy way to add fibre to your diet.
3. Take a Probiotic like Kefir
A number of large studies have shown that probiotics may be able to lower blood cholesterol, particularly in people with high cholesterol levels.
Probiotics can help by binding with cholesterol in the intestines to stop it from being absorbed. They also help produce certain bile acids, which help metabolize fat and cholesterol in your body. Certain probiotics can also produce short-chain fatty acids, which are compounds that can help prevent cholesterol from being formed by the liver. 5https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/probiotics-and-heart-health
Lactobacillus probiotics (of which Chuckling Goat kefir contains 11 different strains) significantly reduced both total cholesterol and “bad” LDL cholesterol levels.6https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/28594860/
4. Reduce Saturated Fats and Avoid Trans Fats
Another beneficial change is to reduce your consumption of saturated fats. These are most often found in red meats and full-fat dairy products. Don’t worry though, your full-fat Kefir is not a problem as Kefir grains can reduce the cholesterol levels of milk during fermentation, and have been shown to reduce the levels of cholesterol present by 41-84%!
A diet high in saturated fat can cause increased levels of cholesterol in the blood, thus raising your risk of heart disease.7https://www.nhs.uk/live-well/eat-well/how-to-eat-a-balanced-diet/eating-a-balanced-diet/8https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/high-blood-cholesterol/in-depth/reduce-cholesterol/art-20045935 You should also avoid trans-fats in your diet. Trans-fats are regularly found in shop-bought cakes and cookies, margarine, takeaways, and fried foods, and increase overall cholesterol levels.9https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/high-blood-cholesterol/in-depth/reduce-cholesterol/art-20045935
5. Get Moving
Exercise more to improve cholesterol! The World Health Organisation suggests we each do 150 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise each week for good health, along with two sessions of strength training.10https://www.who.int/news-room/fact-sheets/detail/physical-activity Exercise is also a great tool for weight loss, and maintaining a healthy weight which is important for a healthy heart! Walking, swimming, jogging, and cycling can all help lower cholesterol, especially when done regularly.
6. Maintain a Healthy Weight
Following the points above will help guide you in trying to lose weight. Exercising regularly, and choosing wholefoods, low saturated fat options, and avoiding processed foods will aid in losing weight or maintaining a healthy weight, which is important for reducing risk of heart issues. This is particularly important for overweight or obese individuals. Carrying even a few extra pounds can lead to higher cholesterol.11https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/high-blood-cholesterol/in-depth/reduce-cholesterol/12https://www.healthline.com/health/high-cholesterol/how-to-reduce-cholesterol-without-medication#cholesterol-lowering-tips If you are above a healthy weight range, or carry a lot weight around your middle, focus on reducing your calorie intake and increasing your daily activity levels. Remember, small changes can add up to a big difference – start parking further from your office or the shops, take the stairs, go for a walk on your lunch break, if you have an activity-tracking watch – challenge your friends to a weekly step challenge!
7. Quit Smoking!
Looking after your cholesterol levels is another on the long list of reasons to quit smoking. The benefits of quitting actually happen very fast, so there’s no time like the present. Lung function and blood circulation will improve within just 3 months! Even more significant, within 12 months of ditching the cigarettes, your risk of heart disease is already half that of a smoker!13https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/high-blood-cholesterol/in-depth/reduce-cholesterol
8. Reduce Alcohol Intake
Reduce or cut out your alcohol intake. When you consume alcohol, it gets broken down by the liver into triglycerides and cholesterol.14https://www.healthline.com/health/high-cholesterol/how-to-reduce-cholesterol-without-medication#cholesterol-lowering-tips Excess alcohol may result in high blood pressure, strokes, heart failure, and other serious health issues.15https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/high-blood-cholesterol/in-depth/reduce-cholesterol/ Ensure you have several alcohol free days each week and avoid excess/binge-drinking. Drink lots of water before, during and after alcohol – alternate between alcoholic and non-alcoholic drinks when you’re out. Don’t be afraid to ask your friends and family for support. Letting those closest to you know you are taking steps towards better health and want their support, will make cutting down easier.
For specific foods, nutrients, and supplements that can further benefit your cholesterol levels, jump over to our article “10 things you can eat to help tackle high cholesterol“. If you are already taking medication for high cholesterol, we suggest that you check with your GP before implementing any new protocols.