High cholesterol is a chronic condition that is extending its claws in India gradually. Recent studies have reported that 25–30% of urban and 15–20% of rural India are affected by high cholesterol.* Cholesterol is a fat-like substance found in all body cells. However, an excess or a disbalance of cholesterol values is a major contributor to compromised heart health, heart disease, and stroke.
Want to cut your risk of heart disease? Then, it is mandatory to get tested and keep a track of your cholesterol levels.
Cholesterol travels within the body with the help of protein molecules, the combined molecule called lipoprotein (lipo: lipid or fats, in addition to protein). Majorly, cholesterol can be of two types, based on the type of protein that transports it through the bloodstream:
- Low-density lipoproteins/ LDL cholesterol: Carries cholesterol from the liver into the blood, where it can stick to the blood vessels. As this kind of cholesterol is likely to build up, people often refer to it as “bad” cholesterol.
- High-density lipoproteins/HDL cholesterol: Carries the cholesterol in the blood back to the liver, where it is broken down. For this reason, HDL cholesterol is called “good” cholesterol.
A health goal worth achieving for every individual is to elevate levels of good cholesterol and control the rise in bad cholesterol. Book a lipid profile test and know the values.
Role of diet in cholesterol
The diet, especially fats, we eat has a significant role in blood cholesterol values. Hence, it is of utmost importance to pay attention not only to what types of food we are consuming but also their quantities entering the body. Let’s learn the most important dietary dos and don’ts to follow if your cholesterol levels are high:
Watch the type of fat you consume: The dietary fats can primarily be of three types. Different types of fat impact your cholesterol levels differently:
- Saturated fats: They instruct the liver to produce more bad cholesterol, hence their intake should be limited.
- Unsaturated fats: Certain unsaturated fats can facilitate the reabsorption of bad cholesterol through your liver. Hence, it is a healthy type of fat that can help reduce bad cholesterol.
- Trans fats: These fats are produced by an artificial process called hydrogenation, and they might also harm your good cholesterol levels.
Fried and packaged foods often contain trans fats. In addition, refined oil, ghee, etc contain saturated fats. Add more sources of unsaturated fats to your diet. Foods like nuts, dry fruits, and seeds are rich in unsaturated fats. Choose healthful fats to lower bad cholesterol levels while maintaining good cholesterol levels.
Please note that a completely fat-free diet can also be harmful because it would impair normal nerve and brain function, and can cause inflammation.
Fibers for a healthy heart: Fiber can be of two main forms: soluble and insoluble. Many foods contain both forms. At large, the more natural and unprocessed the food, the higher is its fiber content. While insoluble fiber is pivotal for gut health, soluble fiber binds to cholesterol in the blood and helps remove it through feces. Fiber-rich foods have the added benefit of controlling blood sugar levels as well. Include more peas, broccoli, spinach, carrot, pear, oranges, strawberries in your diet. Eat plenty of vegetables. Note that there is no fiber in meat, milk products, or sugar.
Use healthy oils for cooking: Mustard oil is a healthier option as it remains stable at high temperatures usually used in Indian cooking. Olive oil is rich in healthy fats too. But limit its usage in salad and dressings, and avoid using it for cooking Indian recipes. Refined oils usually contain more saturated fats.
Consume healthy protein sources: Limit unprocessed red meat. Select lean meat (trimmed of fat, and poultry without skin). Including protein-rich foods like fish, eggs, legumes (such as beans and lentils) in your diet keep you full and helps you avoid munching on unhealthy fatty snacks.
Restrict takeaway foods to once a week: Fast food and readymade processed items such as pastries, bread pakodas, burgers, pizza, chips, etc are usually made of unhealthy cheese and rancid oil. Eating them too frequently can hurt your cholesterol levels drastically. Consult with your doctor about how often you can consume outside food.
Limit salt in daily food and snack: Limiting salt won’t decrease your cholesterol levels directly, but it can help maintain blood pressure levels and decrease your risk of heart diseases. Both high cholesterol and high salt intake can increase blood pressure, and predispose to heart attacks and strokes. Even if you have not been diagnosed with high blood pressure, you should eat less salt.
Along with a healthy diet, make sure to get your cholesterol tested regularly. It is important to track so that you know the measures are taking are working well for you.