A diet rich in nutrients, high fibre food, and a variety of foods taken in moderation coupled with exercise keep cholesterol levels in check. Healthy cholesterol level equates to a healthy heart, which means a long and healthy life.
There are three important elements of your diet that affects the level of cholesterol in your body. They are dietary cholesterol, dietary fat and dietary carbohydrate. Dietary cholesterol is the cholesterol present in the food we eat. Serum cholesterol or blood cholesterol is a fatty substance which occurs naturally in the body and which is necessary for hormone production, cell metabolism and other vital processes. Dietary cholesterol comes from animal products in the diet, such as butter, egg yolk, all kinds of red meat, and dairy products.
There are three main types of fats in food and they affect blood cholesterol in different ways.
- Saturated fat is found mostly in food from animals, such as red meat and dairy products. Foods from plants that contain saturated fat include coconut, coconut oil, palm oil, (also known as tropical oils and hydrogenated oils i.e. vegetable oils that have been chemically changed to make them solid at room temperature).
- Monounsaturated fats, found in plant oils such as olive, canola, peanut oils. They are liquid at room temperature, but will solidify when refrigerated.
- Polyunsaturated fats, which are seen in plant oils such as safflower, sunflower, corn and soybean. These oils are liquid at room as well as in colder temperatures. Some fish, especially cold water fish like salmon, contain a special type of polyunsaturated fat called omega- 3 fat, which slows blood clotting, thereby helping protect the heart against heart disease.
Although all fats are high calorie substances, which contribute to weight gain and elevated of cholesterol, saturated fat is the most harmful type of fat and the main dietary cause of high cholesterol, according to the American Heart Association. When your diet is unhealthily high in saturated fat, your body deals with this excess by storing the surplus in your blood, thereby raising your cholesterol levels. Mono and poly unsaturated fats help reduce blood cholesterol levels by dispensing with newly stored cholesterol. However, being fats they are still high in calories and having them in excess will increase your weight and ultimately your cholesterol level.
Dietary carbohydrates come in two varieties, simple and complex. Simple carbohydrates are found in - refined sugars and natural sweeteners like honey and the fructose present in fruits and vegetables.
Complex carbohydrates include:
- Starches, found in grain products and starchy vegetables like potatoes and corn.
- Dietary fibres, found in whole grain products, fruits and vegetables.
Foods rich in starches and dietary fibres help lower cholesterol. A type of dietary fibre called soluble fibre, helps lower cholesterol level by sweeping cholesterol out of the body before it gets to the blood stream. Especially high in soluble fibres are foods like oats, bran, citrus fruits, rice bran, peas, beans etc.
A diet rich in nutrients, with emphasis on low calorie, high fibre food, and a variety of foods taken in moderation coupled with exercise will help keep your cholesterol level in check. Healthy cholesterol level equates to a healthy heart, which means a long and healthy life.
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