Cholesterol is given a lot of negative connotations for one’s health, but cholesterol is not entirely a villain; instead, our bodies need cholesterol for various functions like hormone production, Vitamin D absorption, and cell membrane formation.
What is bad about cholesterol is its type and amount in the blood; as the excess of anything is bad, so is true for cholesterol. There are two types of cholesterols, HDL cholesterol, also called the "Good Cholesterol," and LDL cholesterol, also known as the "Bad Cholesterol." HDL cholesterol removes lipids (another name for fats) from the peripheral tissues (heart, blood vessels) and carries them to the liver for excretion from the body, whereas LDL cholesterol does the opposite and delivers lipids to the tissues. Therefore, HDL improves heart and vascular health, whereas excess LDL cholesterol is a risk factor for heart diseases and strokes.
Through diet and exercise, one can keep cholesterol in the healthy range. Exercise helps increase HDL cholesterol, and diet modification can help lower LDL cholesterol levels.
Having high cholesterol in your blood results and looking for a dietary approach to lower your cholesterol level by being vegetarian, one can approach mindful changes in the diet
1. Incorporation of grains and beans: Adding whole grains to your diet in the form of multigrain and whole wheat bread/chapattis can be helpful. Whole grains are rich in fiber content which decreases cholesterol absorption from the gut and improves the overall gut health. Reduce the consumption of white bread, baked goods, and white rice as these are highly processed, low in fiber, and high in sugar content.
Making various beans like kidney beans, black beans, and chickpeas part of the diet can help lower LDL cholesterol and provide fiber, vitamins, and minerals, improving overall heart health.
2. Oatmeal: Oats have been found to lower cholesterol levels. Oats contain both soluble and insoluble fibers, a soluble fiber called β-glucan helps decrease cholesterol absorption in the intestine from the diet. Daily consumption of one to one and a half cups of cooked oatmeal can lower cholesterol by 5-8%.
3. Consumption of fresh fruits and vegetables: Making vegetables and fruits part of daily meals aids in lowering LDL cholesterol. Vegetables and fruits are low in saturated fats and rich in fiber, vitamins, and minerals. Avoid salad dressing instead; use olive oil and lemon for fruit and vegetable salads.
4. Eating nuts and healthy snacks: Replace processed snacks like chips, muffins, cookies, and buttery popcorns rich in trans and saturated fats with healthy snacks like Avocado whole wheat toast, Guacamole with sliced veggies, and roasted nuts. Avocado is a rich source of monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats like omega 3 and omega 6 fatty acids, which are beneficial for health. Nuts, including walnut, almonds, pecans, and peanuts, are a rich source of omega-3 fatty acid that helps lower triglycerides and LDL cholesterol; moreover, they are rich in mineral and vitamins.
5. Using heart-healthy oils: Heart-healthy oils like canola oil, olive oil, corn oil, and avocado oil are rich in monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fatty acids such as omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids, which help lower cholesterol. Rotating between heart-healthy oils can be an excellent way to utilize various oils.
6. Using low-fat dairy: Consuming low-fat dairy, including low fat/skimmed milk, low-fat yogurt, low-fat cheese instead of regular yogurt, and 2% milk, assist in controlling cholesterol levels. Avoid using whole fat milk, cream cheese, or heavy and whipped creams as they are rich in saturated fats.
7. Cutting down processed and fast food: Highly processed and fast foods like sugary cereals, doughnuts, pies, and pizzas are loaded with sugar and fats, contributing to increased cholesterol levels. Avoiding these foods can have a significant contribution to managing cholesterol levels.
8. Decreasing alcohol consumption: Heavy drinking, which is associated with numerous health risks, is defined as four or more drinks on any given day, or more than 14 drinks per week for males and three or more drinks on any given day, or more than seven drinks per week for females. Heavy alcohol consumption increases LDL cholesterol and triglyceride levels which is harmful to heart health. Therefore, cutting down alcohol consumption helps control cholesterol.
9. Avoiding sugary drinks: Drinks containing high fructose corn syrup and sugar can increase bad cholesterol and lower good cholesterol levels. Decreasing consumption of soda/pop, drinking an ample amount of water, and staying hydrated is beneficial.
10. Staying active: Exercise plays a vital role in managing cholesterol levels in addition to the diet. Exercise helps in increasing HDL cholesterol (good cholesterol). Physical activity for at least 30 minutes a day should be done, which is beneficial for overall health.
11. Getting enough sleep: Getting proper and sufficient sleep of at least 6-7 hours is essential. Too little sleep leads to high LDL cholesterol and triglyceride levels and low HDL levels. So, it is vital to have enough sleep.
As we know, "Health is Wealth," so consciously choosing healthy over junk and incorporating nutritional dietary and lifestyle modifications can help decrease cholesterol and improve overall health.
By making mindful dietary changes and incorporating a variety of fruits, vegetables, and other heart-healthy foods in one’s diet, cholesterol can be lowered and kept in the healthy range.