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Cholesterol support through good nutrition

Cholesterol is a fatty component that forms part of your body’s cells. It is also found in most animal-based foods, and it is required for cell membrane maintenance, as well as vitamin D and hormone metabolism. High cholesterol levels can lead to a build-up in arteries, potentially obstructing blood flow and increasing the risk of heart disease.

The good, the bad, and the ugly
Cholesterol is carried in the bloodstream, bound to protein complexes called lipoproteins. Low-density lipoproteins (LDLs) deposit cholesterol in the artery walls and are known as “bad” cholesterol. High-density lipoproteins (HDLs), known as “good” cholesterol, are involved in removing cholesterol from the artery walls. The emphasis on dietary changes is, therefore, to decrease LDL cholesterol, while increasing or maintaining HDL cholesterol.

High blood levels of another type of fat, called triglycerides, are also related to the development of atherosclerosis, the main underlying cause of heart disease and strokes.

Apart from cholesterol ingested from animal-based foods, about two-thirds of the cholesterol in your body is manufactured by your liver, stimulated by saturated fats from your diet. The liver is also responsible for the breakdown of cholesterol, thereby trying to keep cholesterol levels within a healthy range.


Did you know? The World Health Organisation (WHO) recommends a cholesterol intake of less than 300 mg daily, which equals one jumbo egg, 400 g extra-lean mince, or four small skinless, roasted chicken breasts. Saturated fat intake should be restricted to <7% of total energy (<13 g of saturated fat is equal to the amount found in 32 g cheddar cheese, 300 ml full-cream milk, or two tablespoons of butter, in a 7 000 kJ/day diet).


Purposeful eating 
Cholesterol-lowering foods can potentially help to keep blood cholesterol within a healthy range by reducing cholesterol absorption and production, as well as supporting cholesterol breakdown and excretion. Here are seven cholesterol-friendly food suggestions.

Think twiceCholesterol-friendly option
Coffee. Even though coffee beans are naturally free from cholesterol, pure ground coffee contains oils known as diterpenes, which have been shown to increase LDL levels.
Tea. Both Rooibos and green tea are rich in antioxidants, which are known to assist in the reduction of high cholesterol levels.
Fatty meats. Avoid, or use in moderation — especially fatty cuts of beef, mutton, and pork. Steer clear of all sausages, most processed meats, ribs, fatty mince, and meat pies.Lean meats. Ostrich is a great substitute for beef, as it contains per mass about the same amount of fat as skinless chicken breasts, and more iron than beef. Other healthy options include venison, lean cuts of pork fillet, and skinless chicken.
Full-cream dairy. It is best to completely steer clear of products such as ice cream, milk, cheeses, and butter.Low-fat dairy. Alternatives to full-cream dairy, like yoghurt, skimmed milk, and low-fat cheeses (cottage and ricotta) are recommended. Cultured low-fat dairy products containing live bacteria (such as yoghurt) may help with moderate cholesterol reduction if eaten regularly.
Margarine.The processing from liquid to solid of sunflower oil into margarine results in the build-up of harmful trans-fatty acids that could indirectly increase cholesterol levels, therefore adversely affecting cardiovascular health. Even though there are trans-fat free margarines available, made from olive oil, or enriched with cholesterol-lowering ingredients, it’s important to remember that these are still highly-processed.Healthy spreads. Low-fat cottage cheese, avocado, olive oil, and homemade mayonnaise can be used as healthy toppings for bread, baked potatoes, and even in cooking.
TIP: Since olive oil starts solidifying at cold temperatures, keep a small dish of olive oil in the coldest area of your refrigerator. It won’t be as firm as margarine, but it will be spreadable. For extra flavour, add garlic, chilli, or herbs (e.g. thyme, rosemary or basil) to the oil.
Processed plant fats. Be on the lookout for foods containing high concentrations of fractionated or hydrogenated vegetable fat. These fats are most often found in dairy-free creams, coffee creamers, and yoghurt-flavoured snack bars. Healthy fats and oils. Avocado, nuts, seeds, and cold-pressed plant oils – such as olive, canola and sunflower seed oil – have cholesterol-lowering properties. Include these to your eating plan daily, in small quantities.
Prawns and shrimps. Since shellfish are naturally rich in cholesterol, they’re often excluded from cholesterol-lowering diets, especially if deep-fried or served with butter and cream. Omega 3-rich fish. Oily fish (salmon, sardines, pilchard, or mackerel), are recommended. These fish contain omega 3 fatty acids, which are known to help reduce cholesterol and benefit cardiovascular health.
Chips and crisps. Even though chips and crisps are made with healthy ingredients (potatoes and sunflower seed oil), deep-frying destroys the healthy properties of the plant oils and may result in the accumulation of carcinogenic (cancer-forming) components, especially when repeatedly heated to very high temperatures.Healthy snacks. Low-fat savoury snacks include homemade popcorn flavoured with vegetable salt, ostrich biltong, olives, low-fat feta cheese, and yoghurt-based dips.

Did you know? Research shows that if you suffer from high cholesterol, you can still eat 3–4 eggs weekly, provided that other foods rich in cholesterol and saturated fats are restricted.


A final thought
The synergy of a healthy lifestyle and diet promotes long-term health. Be inspired and inspire those around you to incorporate healthy food choices in their daily lives. Importantly, blood cholesterol levels need to be closely monitored when implementing a natural approach, as some people, especially those with hereditary high cholesterol, may still need cholesterol-lowering drugs.

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