Most people associate high cholesterol levels with a diet high in fried, oily foods, but it seems that more and more people are finding out they’ve got high cholesterol, despite eating a relatively low fat diet. So what is the dietary advice if you already avoid foods high in fat?
Well actually, only a small amount of cholesterol in the body comes from the diet – most of it is made by the liver regardless of how much you eat. Cholesterol is an important substance in the body and is used for the manufacture of certain hormones and for healthy cell membranes. It also is a component of bile which is needed to digest fats properly and to absorb fat soluble vitamins such as vitamin A and vitamin E. It also has a role in syntehsising vitamin D in the skin in response to sunlight.
When bile is produced by the liver, it is released into the digestive system where it gets to work digesting fats. It is usually then excreted with the faeces, and more bile is made from cholesterol to replace it. Foods rich in soluble fibre soak up the cholesterol-rich bile acids like a sponge, and ensure they are transported out of the body. This is a really important part of keeping cholesterol at a healthy level, and as a nutritional therapist, I will always want the bowel to be working efficiently when a client has high cholesterol levels.
It is important to note here that there are two kinds of fibre: soluble and insoluble. Soluble fibre is the important type for lowering cholesterol levels. It dissolves in water and forms a gel-like substance which mops up the cholesterol-rich bile acids. On the other hand, insoluble fibre acts more like a brush, sweeping debris through the digestive system. Foods that are good sources of insoluble fibre include oats, beans, lentils, linseeds and apples.
As well as including these foods, it can sometimes help to take a supplement to improve bowel function and to help the changes happen more quickly. I recommend Colon Support Formula and also Psyllium Husk Powder. Flaxseeds are a really good source of soluble fibre and contain some essential fats, and are really easy to sprinkle on your breakfast cereal.
In addition to including the right kind of fibre in your diet, it also helps to increase your intake of healthy fats (the type of fats found in fish, nuts and seeds). So if you have high cholesterol levels, rather than avoiding fats totally, I would recommend you include oily fish as often as you can. If you are vegetarian, flaxseed oil is the best vegetarian source of omega-3 fatty acids, and if you don’t like fish, then a capsule of fish oil is a good idea.