What is Cholesterol?

Digesting foods with high saturated fat content makes it difficult for the body to breakdown and is eventually deposited in the walls of your arteries. This is referred to as "Cholesterol". This builds up over time and eventually restricts the circulation of blood flow to you heart, brain and the rest of your body which increases your risk of experiencing heart disease, stroke and heart attacks earlier than you may have expected. 

You should reduce your consumption of foods with high saturated fat content including processed foods, fatty meat and dairy products and start introducing foods that is high in fibre, lean meat, fish, vegetables and low fat or fat free products into your diet.

 

"Some foods naturally contain cholesterol, called dietary cholesterol. Foods such as kidneys, eggs and prawns are higher in dietary cholesterol than other foods.  Dietary cholesterol has much less of an effect on the level of cholesterol in your blood than the amount of saturated fat you eat does" - I'll keep my Burford browns then thank you!

Foods to have and avoid:

Have

High fibre foods:

Fruit, vegetables and whole grains are high in fibre and antioxidants which is vital to a healthy low cholesterol diet. 

  • Apples, berries, grapes, citrus fruits (like lemon, lime, grapefruit and oranges).

  • Eggplants/ aubergines, carrots, sweet potatoes, brussels sprouts and potatoes.

  • Nuts and Seeds - Try chia seeds, flax seeds, pumpkin seeds, dried coconut, almonds, pine nuts, pistachios, sesame seeds, sunflower seeds, and chestnuts.

This will help block cholesterol from being absorbed in your small intestine.

  • Pulses and beans - try black bean, soy/edamame beans, kidney beans, garbanzo beans, chickpeas and lentils.

Studies show that 1 cup of any bean (including canned varieties and garden peas) have been proven to lower cholesterol levels!

  • Whole grains - Oats, quinoa, barley, oat bran and whole wheat.

Oats contain beta-glucan, a type of fibre which lowers cholesterol by absorbing water in your gIastrointestinal tract and disposing of excess saturated fat.

Products with added Plant sterols and stanols:

Plant sterols  and stanols can be found in small amounts and exist in many grains, vegetables and fruits.

  •  Look for light spreads like Benecol and Flora.Practiv. They have added plant sterols and stanols that lower cholesterol.

Meat:

  • Lean meat. Stick to skinless poultry, chicken and turkey

  • If you have to eat other meats, choose lean cuts of meat, like 5% fat mince beef, pork tenderloin and beef round and beef fillet steak.

Look for product labels with at least 92% less fat. 

Omega-3-rich foods

  • Fatty fish including salmon, mackerel, trout, tuna, and sardines

  • Omega-3 fatty acids also exist in walnuts and ground flaxseed.

 

Dairy:

  • Try to avoid dairy but if you must, choose semi-skimmed and skimmed milk and low-fat or fat-free products.

“Good” oils and mono-saturated fats

Some oils can be good for you and olive oil has been known to increase the level of “good” cholesterol. 

  • Vegetable-based oils including, olive, canola, soy, and sunflower.

  • Avocado

  • Olives

Sweets:

  • Dark Chocolate and coca has been known to lower cholesterol according to Healthline.

Foods that contain cholesterol but are low in saturated fat:

Most people don’t need to cut down on the cholesterol that’s found in these foods according to Heart UK. This includes:

  • Eggs

  • Some shellfish like prawn, crab, lobster and squid

 

Avoid

Fatty and processed meat:​

  • ​Fatty cuts of beef, lamp and pork

  • Poultry with skin

  • Fatty meat and processed meat products such as sausages

  • Bacon

  • Cured meats like salami, chorizo and pancetta

Dairy:

  • Full fat dairy foods such as milk, cheese, yogurt, cream, crème fraîche and sour cream.

  • Products made from whole milk like milkshakes, ice cream, whole milk chocolate and whole milk chocolate spreads.

  • Animal fats, such as butter, ghee, margarines and spreads made from animal fats, lard, suet and dripping.

If you are finding it hard to not use cheese in this recipe, instead of giving up, try adding Eatlean protein cheese or less fat cheddar cheese (You can now get cheddar with 50% less fat!)

"Bad" Oils:

  • Saturated vegetable oils, such as coconut oil, palm oil, and palm kernel oil.

Bakery products and pastries:

  • Products with trans fats like bakery food, cookies, cakes and donuts.

  • Pastries, like pies, quiches, sausage rolls and croissants

Processed food:

  • Crisps 

  • Deep fried foods

From experience I know it's hard to switch from a high saturated fat diet to having little or no saturated fat at all. It's a habit and the taste or texture that you are used to eating. It may not happen overnight for you but try reducing your intake and replace your usual high saturated fat products, like cheese, for less fat options.

 

Keep trying to cut down and choose healthier options until you can live without these foods. 

MY TOP TIPS...

After researching about cholesterol on various websites for the above information, I started to make some changes to my lifestyle and food choices. 

Below I've shared a list of the main changes that began our journey to lower cholesterol living. 

Step 1: Make the basic swaps

  • ​Swap white bread for wholemeal/ wholegrain bread with seeds -Yep this applies to all breads (wraps, pitta, bagels, loafs).

  • Whole gain/ brown pasta, rice and cereal.

  • Swap butter for cholesterol lowering spread made from plant stanols and sterols, like Benecol or Flora Pro-Activ Light.

  • Swap whole Milk products for semi-skimmed, skimmed milk, nut milk, soya milk or oat milk.

  • Swap your usual cooking oil for healthier oils like extra virgin oil.

Step 2: Check product labels

The NHS have provided very useful advice on what to look for on the nutritional labels which can be found either on the front or back of a packaged food product.  

 

Looking for foods that have low "saturated fat", "saturates" or "sat fat" levels on the label will help you cut down your cholesterol intake. 

Some products don't have the useful colour coding of green (low), amber (medium) and red (high) to show the saturated fat levels. Below is the scale provided by the NHS so that you may figure out which products to have and avoid if there is no colour coding provided.

LOW:             1.5g (or less) saturates per 100g is good.

MEDIUM:      Between 1.5g and 5g saturates per 100g is okay.

HIGH: More than 5g saturates per 100g is bad and must to be avoided.

Heart.org state for a 2,000 calorie per day diet, you should limit yourself to about 11 to 13 grams of saturated fat per day.

(2,000 calories per day is recommended for women and 2,500 for men).

Step 3: Plan your meals

Plan your meals to avoid waste and to you give yourself plenty of healthy options to eat. This will prevent you from coming home and finding that there's nothing to eat, or finding that you don't have the ingredients to make what you'd like to eat. This may cause you to opt for a convenient take away or eat out.

 

In my option, if you are at the start of your journey and are desperately trying to cut down on foods with high saturated fat content, you must avoid a situation where you could be tempted by a menu full of them! 

Things to bear in mind when preparing your weekly meals:

  • Heart.org recommend that you have at least two fish meals per week 

  • Eat poultry (chicken and turkey) and meat-free options like soy products, tofu and quorn.

  • Choose recipes that excite you and are achievable. (You'll get better and more creative with time).

For some ideas, i've made an example fortnightly meal plan below:

I usually do a large food shop every two weeks, with a smaller weekly shop in between to get fresh veg and fruit as these don't make it to the second week unfortunately.

I allocate easier recipes/ meals on the days that I plan to be home later than usual (i.e. if I go to the gym after work or meet a friend). This will make it easier for you to stick to, as you may not want to turn into Heston Blumenthal after a long day (he's a famous chef in case you're not familiar). Also if you live for the weekend and associate Friday, Saturday and Sunday with hearty foods, then allocate hearty low cholesterol recipes to these days.

Step 4: Stock up on healthier options 

You are going to be eating more fresh products and these things go off quickly . This leaves you open to coming home and not having anything to eat or perhaps you just can't be bothered to cook that day. This is prime time for grabbing a takeaway or eating something you shouldn't. 

 

So stock your cupboards, fridge and freezer with the following items, so that you can fall back on something healthy and easy to make in case you don't feel like cooking one day. This includes:

  • Fishcakes. These are your best friend on a lazy day. You can just pop them in the oven. Buy them chilled or freeze them.  ​

  • Lots of cans of tuna, mackerel and sardines for a quick bite at lunchtime 

  • Grains. These packets keep for a while and make a great side to any meal. Buy quinoa, cous cous and barley. 

  • Porridge is a staple for breakfast. You can buy big bags, it's not expensive and it keeps for a long time.

  •  Pasta Tortellini. Go to the chilled isle and look for fresh chilled pasta. These are cheap and they keep for a month/months. I like to have this with a low fat pasta sauce or pesto, chopped and fried courgette, mushroom and spinach.

  • Stock up on canned beans of all varieties. Tinned beans also keep for longer and you can throw them in salads, curries, all sorts!

  • Vegetables that I tend to buy regularly include courgettes, potatoes, sweet potatoes, mushrooms, beans, onions and spinach. I that they are the most versatile, so I can add them to anything.

  • At the weekend I have more time, so I like to make big batches of vegetable soup. I then freeze them in smaller portions and have them in the week.

Step 5: Add to your spice rack 

Since starting our low cholesterol journey, we've accumulated a lot of spices and condiments which are used in a variety of recipes. I'd advise you to buy all of the below to start with, so that you can create the tastiest meals.

  • 1 bottle of lemon juice 

  • Ground Cumin 

  • Parsley

  • Garlic

  • Soy Sauce 

  • Salt and Pepper 

  • Chilli Powder

  • Sweet Chilli Sauce 

  • Rosemary

  • Thyme

  • Oregano 

  • Paprika

  • Nutmeg

  • Ginger

  • All Purpose Seasoning 

Step 6: Exercise regularly

Regular exercise will help you to lower your cholesterol levels and reduce you risk of heart disease. It also improves your mental health because when you exercise, your body releases chemicals called Endorphins which boosts your mood and relieves stress. 

The NHS states that doing 150 minutes of moderate aerobic activity every week can improve your cholesterol levels. The Healthline says any exercise is better than no exercise at all, however the following types have been linked to reducing cholesterol levels.

  1. Running or jogging

  2. Brisk walks

  3. Riding a bike to work or just for fun

  4. Swimming

  5. Lifting weights

If you are not afraid of exercise, why not set yourself a goal to work towards. Consider signing up for a 5K, 10K, half marathon, marathon run or triathlon. This will make you train regularly. 

If your don't feel confident exercising and hate gyms; or perhaps it's "too cold" outside to run. Why not try exercising at home?

  • Try exercising with workout DVD's or online youtube videos

  • Buy a second hand static exercise bike and cycle to your favourite programmes or music. (I bought mine for £20 on Gumtree)

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