Cholesterol is a waxy substance that is an essential part of your cell wall. It also has other functions, including the production of vitamin D and certain hormones. But it becomes a problem if cholesterol is present in excess in your blood. 

High cholesterol level is a prevalent condition and may even increase the risk of heart diseases and even erectile dysfunction in men. In most individuals, high cholesterol is mainly caused by foods rich in trans and saturated fats.

However, this can be reversed by including more vegetables, fruits, and fiber in your diet.

Here is how food and dietary changes can help you manage your cholesterol levels.

Cholesterol and Food- How One Affects the Other

What you eat impacts your health. Eating foods rich in fats and cholesterol may affect your cholesterol levels. However, there is little or no connection between cholesterol in your food and blood. Your body regulates the amount of cholesterol in the blood by modifying its production.

The liver produces cholesterol. If your dietary intake of cholesterol is low, the body makes it more. If you consume more cholesterol, your body lowers its production. So, foods rich in cholesterol do not have a significant impact on your blood cholesterol levels.

However, high-cholesterol foods can boost cholesterol levels in some people, those with a genetic tendency. While dietary cholesterol can moderately increase LDL-C levels in such people, it rarely increases the risk of heart conditions.

Besides, people who respond to dietary cholesterol also have an increase in HDL levels. So, the ratio of LDL and HDL cholesterol relatively remains the same.

You should also know that dietary fat also influences your cholesterol levels. High consumption of trans and saturated fats impacts cholesterol levels the most.

Benefits of A Healthy Diet on Cholesterol

There are two main types of lipoproteins in your body:

  • Low-density lipoprotein (LDL): They carry cholesterol from the liver to your body cells. As it promotes cholesterol build-up in your blood vessels, cholesterol bound to LDL is known as LDL-cholesterol (LDL-C) or bad cholesterol.
  • High-density lipoprotein (HDL): This lipoprotein promotes the removal of excess cholesterol by carrying it from your cells to the liver, where it is metabolized. Cholesterol bound to this lipoprotein is known as HDL-cholesterol (HDL-C) or good cholesterol. 
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A balance between LDL-C and HDL-C is essential for the functioning of cells. However, if the LDL-C builds up in your vessel wall, it may narrow and stiffen your blood vessels, resulting in a condition known as atherosclerosis.

Having a healthy diet can improve HDL cholesterol levels, reduce LDL levels and lower the risk of complications such as heart diseases and stroke.

Foods That Are High in Cholesterol

It is best to avoid or limit the intake of mentioned food options rich in cholesterol:

  • Whole eggs
  • Beef
  • Shellfish
  • Fish oil
  • Liver
  • Sardines

But more than cholesterol-rich foods, consumption of products high in trans and saturated fats should be reduced.

Saturated Fats

It is the worst type of fat to include as it can increase your LDL cholesterol levels more than anything.

Some foods rich in saturated fats are:

  • Dairy products
  • Meats
  • Chocolates
  • Deep-fried and processed food items
  • Baked items
  • Coconut oil
  • Butter

Trans Fats

Consuming trans fats lowers HDL cholesterol and increases LDL cholesterol levels. Frequent consumption of foods rich in trans fats can increase the risk of heart disease by 23%.

Some foods rich in trans fats are:

  • Daily products
  • Red meat
  • Processed foods

Added Sugars

Consuming an excess of added sugars can have the same effect as having saturated and trans fats. 

It is seen that consuming more than 25% of the calories from sugary drinks can increase LDL cholesterol levels by 17% in two weeks.

It is recommended to consume no more than 150 calories for men and 100 calories for women from added sugar.

Foods That Help Control/Lower Cholesterol

Here are some foods that can help in lowering bad cholesterol and improving HDL cholesterol levels.

Fiber-Rich Foods

Two types of fiber are present in food, soluble and insoluble fiber. Soluble fiber can easily dissolve in water and brown down to a gel-like substance in your gut. On the other hand, insoluble fiber cannot dissolve in water and is left intact in your gut. While both types of fiber are beneficial, soluble fiber aids in lowering cholesterol levels.

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When soluble fiber moves through your intestines, it absorbs bile, a liver secretion that aids in the digestion of fats. Ultimately, fiber and bile acid are excreted through stools. This lowers the level of bile acids in your body, prompting your liver to produce more.

Your liver needs cholesterol for bile production. So, the higher requirement of bile acid causes your liver to increase its production, lowering cholesterol levels.

It is seen that regular consumption of soluble fiber can lower both LDL and total cholesterol by 5%-10% within a month.

Try to include 5–10 grams of soluble fiber daily for optimal cholesterol-lowering effect. 

Some foods rich in soluble fiber are:

  • Legumes
  • Beans
  • Flax seeds
  • Whole grains
  • Citrus fruits
  • Apples

Fruits and Vegetables

Including fruits and vegetables is an easy yet effective way to lower LDL cholesterol levels. They are also rich in antioxidants that prevent LDL cholesterol from forming plaques on your blood vessel wall.

Their LDL lowering and antioxidants effects also aid in lowering the risk of heart disorders.

It is seen that regular consumption of fruits and vegetables can lower the risk of heart disorders by 17% over ten years. Studies have also shown that eating four servings of vegetables and fruits each can lower your LDL cholesterol by 6%.

Some healthy options include:

  • Apples
  • Blueberries
  • Grapes
  • Strawberries
  • Oranges
  • Peas
  • Avocados
  • Carrots
  • Eggplants
  • Broccoli

Unsaturated Fats

Foods mainly have two sources of fats, saturated and unsaturated. Saturated fats are solid at room temperature, while unsaturated fats are liquid at room temperature.

Studies have shown that people who consume a diet rich in unsaturated foods and low in saturated fats have lower LDL cholesterol levels than people consuming otherwise.

It can help lower bad cholesterol by 11% and improve good cholesterol by 9% in two months.

Some foods rich in unsaturated fats are:

  • Olives
  • Avocados
  • Nuts
  • Fatty fish such as Mackerel, Herring, and Tuna

Other Healthy Food Tips

Following these tips can also help in lowering your cholesterol levels:

  • Mediterranean-Style Diet: This diet is rich in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, nuts, and fish and low in dairy and red meat. Wine can be included in moderation. Eating a Mediterranean diet can lower your LDL cholesterol levels by 8.9 mg/dL in three months. It can also reduce the risk of cardiovascular diseases by 52%.
  • Soy: Soybeans are rich in protein and isoflavones, a compound similar to estrogen. Studies have proven the cholesterol-lowering effect of soy. Consuming soy every day can lower bad cholesterol by 4 mg/dL and good cholesterol by 1.4 mg/dL. Soy milk or soybeans are healthier than soy supplements or extracts. 
  • Green tea: It is rich in antioxidants that prevent the formation of plaques by deposition of LDL cholesterol on your blood vessel wall. Studies have shown that green tea can lower LDL cholesterol levels by reducing its production by the liver and increasing its removal from blood. Green tea can lower LDL cholesterol by 2 mg/dL and total cholesterol by 7 mg/dL within two weeks. Having four cups of green tea in a day offers optimal protection against heart diseases. Even having one cup can lower the risk of heart conditions by 20%.
  • Spices and herbs: They are power-packed with minerals, vitamins, and antioxidants. Research has proven the efficacy of turmeric, garlic, and ginger for lowering cholesterol levels. It is seen that regularly consuming garlic can lower total cholesterol by 9% in three months. Other healthy options include mint, clove, cinnamon, oregano, thyme, and sage.
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Importance of Lifestyle Changes to Supplement Dietary Changes

Lifestyle changes such as losing weight or being physically active can boost the cholesterol-lowering effect of a healthy diet.

For instance, losing 5%-10% weight can lower LDL cholesterol levels and reduce the risk of heart diseases

Physical exercise can further boost this effect, improving cholesterol levels and heart health. 

It is recommended to carry out moderate-intensity exercises 150 minutes a week or 30 minutes a day for most days in a week. Some healthy exercise options include swimming, running, jogging, or cycling. 

Other lifestyle changes that can also help are:

  • Quit smoking
  • Limit alcohol intake
  • Get adequate sleep

Final Thoughts

High levels of LDL cholesterols are linked with heart diseases and stroke. Dietary changes such as eating more vegetables and fruits, consuming soluble fiber, and preferring unsaturated fats over trans and saturated fats can lower your cholesterol levels. 

All in all, small dietary changes can significantly improve cholesterol levels.

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