You may have heard about “good” cholesterol and “bad” cholesterol. What’s the difference, exactly? As the American Heart Association explains, these concepts have to do with two different kinds of lipoproteins, LDL and HDL. The “bad” cholesterol you should keep at bay is LDL, which stands por Low-Density Lipoprotein. This has been linked to a heightened risk of heart disease and stroke, as well as health conditions.
Conversely, HDL is the “good” or “friendly” cholesterol, as having higher levels of HDL has been proven to lower the risk of developing the same pathologies. The association stresses that lowering LDL cholesterol should be your top priority, because that has a greater impact on reducing risks.
Should I change my diet?
Because keeping LDL within a healthy range is paramount to prevent heart diseases, you might think removing cholesterol rich food from your diet can be effective. Although it’s always sound to strive for a healthy, balanced diet, according to the British Heart Foundation (BHF) the one element you should target is saturated fat.
This means that, surprisingly, some foods that are rich in cholesterol make little difference to your cholesterol levels. That seems to be the case for eggs, shellfish and animal offal such as liver or kidney. The Foundation explains that, because they are low on saturated fat, you should be fine eating them as long as the amount doesn’t exceed that of a healthy diet.
So, what contains saturated fats? They mainly appear in the form of processed food, like sausages, burgers and kebabs. Additionally, BHF suggests that you ditch some usual presentations in favour of healthier alternatives.
For instance, instead of a cooked pork belly joint with fat, you could go for a cooked lean pork leg joint. For poultry, grilling chicken breast without skin is an alternative to frying it with the skin on. Saturated fats are also present in hard cheeses like cheddar, whole milk, cream, lard, ghee and some oils like coconut oil and palm oil.
What should I include in my diet to lower “bad” cholesterol?
Not everything is bad. There are many changes you can do to your diet to make it healthier and lower your “bad” cholesterol consumption. The main takeaway is to cut down on saturated fats, but you can also include more Fibre in your diet. Fibre is beneficial in the intestine because it reduces the amount of cholesterol that gets absorbed into your blood.
An easy way to take advantage of this property is to make sure you eat at least five portions of fruit and vegetables per day. Pulses and seed are a great way of including fibre. Common ones are lentils, beans and chickpeas. Finally, when you are going to buy bread, make sure it’s wholegrain rather than white, as it includes more fibre.
Small changes make a big difference
The BHF also claims some small changes can amount to a big difference when it comes to making changes to your diet. They list a few “quick” swaps that positively impact the amount of cholesterol you ingest:
Ditching whole milk in favour of 1% milk
Swapping sour cream to natural yogurt
Quit frying and start grilling, boiling, steaming or baking
Change crisps for unsalted nuts
Replace regular mince with leaner and reduced fat varieties
Let go of the regular cheese and choose one reduced in fat.
Prioritise fish, turkey and chicken instead of red meat. Even better, go for plant-based proteins such as lentils.
Swap butter to lower-fat butter or vegetable oil spreads such as sunflower, olive or rapeseed oil spreads.
Aside from your diet, the BHF also points to a sedentary lifestyle and smoking as major driving forces behind high cholesterol levels, so consider making changes to your lifestyle along those lines for a better protection against heart disease.