Cholesterol in food rarely matters.
You’d think the obvious thing would be to eat fewer of the top cholesterol-containing foods such as prawns, organ meats and eggs. But, for most people, the amount of cholesterol in the diet has very little impact on the amount of cholesterol circulating in their blood, which is because your liver is generally very effective at cutting down on internal cholesterol manufacture when it detects a supply coming in from outside. So, you can safely eat a poached egg for brekkie and a prawn sandwich for lunch if you want to, but do take care to watch your intake of calories overall as being overweight, inactive and eating too many of the wrong kind of fats are all risk factors for high cholesterol risk.
Swap saturated fats for unsaturated.
Saturated fats have had something of a reprieve lately, with evidence that some types – such as those in dairy products and chocolate – may not be so bad for your cholesterol levels after all. But it’s still a sensible precaution to keep saturated fat intake down to no more than 20 grams a day, and especially to avoid trans fats – the worst type for the heart – which have been largely eliminated from supermarket food, but can still crop up in fish and chips and other takeaways.
Eating a very low-fat diet isn’t the answer though, and the latest evidence suggests a moderate-fat diet with higher amounts of polyunsaturated and monounsaturated types such as olive, vegetable oils, nuts and avocadoes is the best. The worst thing you can do is replace saturated fat with foods rich in refined carbs, low-fat savoury snacks, white bread, sugary cereal bars and the like, as these can raise the risk of heart disease and diabetes as much as—or more than—eating too much saturated fat.
As part of your healthier fat consumption, having one to two servings of omega-3-rich oily fish such as salmon or mackerel a week is a great idea. While omega-3s don’t have much effect on cholesterol, they make the blood less prone to clotting.
Include cholesterol-reducing superfoods.
When you’re already moderating your saturated fat intake, getting your 5-a-day of fruit and veg and eating a couple of portions of oily fish a week, there’s still room to lower your cholesterol levels even more – achieving up to a 35 per cent reduction in total – by including one or more of these four specific cholesterol-busting foods, which are part of the Heart UK-approved Ultimate Cholesterol Lowering Plan.
- Stanol- or Sterol-fortified foods such as Benecol or Flora Proactive: try a one-a-day mini yogurt drink for convenience.
- Soya protein: Choose either a handful of roasted edamame beans, or two glasses of soya milk or 55g marinated tofu daily.
- Nuts: A handful of any type daily – for example, almonds, pecans, walnuts or peanuts – is all you need, but preferably go for the unsalted type.
- Oats: For a measurable effect, eat a large bowl of porridge (60g oats) and a snack of three oatcakes daily.
Love coffee? If you’re watching your cholesterol levels, stick to instant or filter types. This is because coffee contains a substance called cafestol that stimulates rises in cholesterol levels. When coffee is brewed with a paper filter, the cafestol (found in the oily fraction of the coffee) gets left behind in the filter. However, boiled and percolator coffee, as well as Turkish and cafetière types, aren’t filtered and have much higher cafestol levels. Espresso – the basis of most lattes and cappuccinos – is somewhere in the middle in terms of its cafestol content and cholesterol-rising potential.