It’s so easy to fall into the habit of buttering sandwiches, throwing snags off the fryer and eating (sugary) cereals and yogurt for brekkie, but it’s just as easy to swap these foods with healthy ingredients that are better for your family’s health and your cholesterol.
Granted, cholesterol isn’t one of parents’ ‘top 10 health concerns’, but it should be. Those artery blocking fats can put you on a fast path to heart disease, heart attacks and stroke, which is no good for anyone. And if you have a family history of cardiovascular disease or health issues, you should be even more food and health conscious (that means getting active, too!).
The good news is a few simple food swaps can steer you, and your family’s health on a path to good cholesterol levels.
Here, Stephen Eddey, nutritionist, naturopath and Principal of Health Schools Australia, gives you a fast-class in cholesterol and shares some common kitchen staples, and a novel new ingredient, that can help maintain healthy cholesterol and get your arteries into kick-ass shape.
Cholesterol: What is it?
It may be surprising to hear that not all cholesterol is bad for you. But that doesn’t mean you can open a bag of sour cream and chill chips. In fact, put those chips back on the shelf – immediately.
“There are two types of cholesterol; Low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol and high-density lipoprotein (HDL),” explains Stephen. “LDL is what is known as the ‘bad’ cholesterol, as it contributes to the development of atherosclerosis forming plaque that can clog arteries and make them less flexible or even vulnerable to rupture. Elevated levels of LDL are considered the main risk factor for cardiovascular issues and lowering such levels decreases the cardiovascular risk. In turn, HDL is known as ‘good’ because it helps remove LDL from the arteries and delivers it back to the liver, where it is broken down and passed from the body.¹”
Stephen says whether you want to lower your cholesterol or just keep it in a healthy range, eating well can help. A host of ingredients can help balance cholesterol and many of them may already be in your kitchen cupboard. So what are they?
Swap Butter for Olive Oil
I have a soft spot for butter (pun totally intended). Slathered on hot toast… Oh I’m salivating just thinking about it! But this yellow block of tastiness is definitely one for the ‘moderation’ basket, and if you can train those tastebuds to enjoy a little wholemeal bread dipped in olive oil (and dukkha – yum!) instead, you’re arteries will be much better off.
“Butter contains about 50% saturated fats,2” explains Stephen. “Replacing butter with olive oil – a common cooking ingredient – can help balance your cholesterol levels. Olive oil is full of heart-healthy monounsaturated fatty acids (MUFAs), which work to decrease LDL.3 Making the simple swap from butter to olive oil can reduce saturated fat intake by up to 10% according to the CSIRO.4 ”
Swap Chips & Biscuits For Nuts
My healthy food approach is pretty simple. If it doesn’t grow on trees or in the ground, then it’s probably NOT good for you. And I can assure you with 100% certainty that chips and biscuits are not on the healthy food period or ‘natural’, regardless of what the marketing pitch on the pack claims. I’ve checked the food pyramid 55 times for chocolate chip biscuits and no matter how hard I wish them there, they’re not appearing…
Stephen has a cracker substitute you’ll go nuts over though. “If you’re looking for a snack food that lowers cholesterol levels, research suggests you should get cracking! Nuts are rich in mono and polyunsaturated fatty acids, soluble fibre and plant sterols to keep blood vessels healthy. One study has shown that adding nuts to a Mediterranean-style diet lowers the risk of heart disease by 30%.⁵ Unsalted almonds, walnuts and cashews are good options. However, while nuts are heart healthy, they’re also high in calories, so it’s best to stick to a handful (30g) per day.”
Swap Sweet Cereals For Oats
It really frustrates me that sugar-laden cereals carry a 4 star health rating. The sneaky marketers get away with this by adding 100mL of skim milk to their serving size for the health star rating assessment rather than rating their product on its own. Don’t be fooled.
A safe bet? Whole oats as close to their natural state as possible.
“If you want to lower your cholesterol, the key may lie in a humble bowl of porridge,” explains Stephen. “Oats contain high levels of beta-glucan, a type of soluble fibre that has been shown to lower both total and LDL cholesterol.⁷ Once digested the beta glucan forms a gel like substance that binds cholesterol in the intestines and prevents it from being absorbed into the bloodstream. A review of studies published found that people with normal or high cholesterol who ate 3g beta-glucan a day reduced their total and LDL cholesterol levels by an average of 5% and 7% respectively.⁷”
Related: Are Eggs OK To Eat Every Day?
Swap Processed Meats For Beans
Does anyone know exactly what is in a sausage or store-bought hamburger patty these days? Check the ingredients label, and you may be surprised to find that ‘meat’ is just a percentage of the total garbage thrown in. How about mixing things up a little with beans (Mexican style, my favourite!).
“From kidney beans to lentils and pinto beans to black-eyed peas — beans are a very versatile food to keep in the cupboard,” Stephen explains. “The key component in this heart-healthy food is the abundance of soluble fibre which forms a gel in water that helps bind acids and cholesterol in the intestinal tract, preventing their re-absorption into the body. Researchers at Arizona State University Polytechnic found that adding ½ cup of beans to soup lowers total cholesterol, including LDL, by up to 8%.8.”
Related: Healthy Parenting Hacks I Swear By
Swap Couch Surfing for Exercise
OK this is not new information, but there’s still a helluva lotta of Aussies not getting enough exercise. Remember, eat smarter, get more active! “Maintaining healthy cholesterol levels can be quite simple, but there’s no single magic bullet,” explains Stephen. “Doctors recommend taking a multi-tiered approach that combines regular exercise with a varied and balanced diet overall. Cholesterol management can also be supported by complementary medicines such as Cuban Policosanol which is isolated and purified from a natural source: the Cuban sugar cane wax. It can help to reduce LDL and may help to increase HDL levels, thus improving the ratio of good/bad cholesterol. ⁶”
For more information about healthy hearts and cholesterol, visit Heart Foundation. For more information on cholesterol management and Cuban Policosanol visit www.raydel.com.au. Dietary supplements should not replace a balanced diet. Please seek advice from your healthcare practitioner before considering the use of supplements.
- Effect of butter, mono- and polyunsaturated fatty acid-enriched butter, trans fatty acid margarine, and zero trans fatty acid margarine on serum lipids and lipoproteins in healthy men.
- Olive oil-enriched diet: effect on serum lipoprotein levels and biliary saturation
- Nutrition Australia – Nuts and Health
- Effects of sugarcane wax alcohols in subjects with normal or borderline cholesterol serum cholesterol levels
- Cholesterol-lowering effects of oat β-glucan
- Effect of Pinto, Black and Dark Red Kidney Bean Consumption as Part of a Meal on Postprandial Glucose in Adults with Type 2 Diabetes
Photographer: Łukasz Popardowski (Toast and toaster only).