Q: I have been diagnosed with high cholesterol (5.5 at the moment). I have done a complete lifestyle change by cutting out all sugar, eating healthier, and exercising more. I am not taking any medication. I agree with everything that you say, when you talk about eating full cream plain yoghurt, drinking full cream milk, using coconut oil, etc. But these are all saturated fats, and as far as I have read, these are the fats that should be avoided when you have high cholesterol. So, would it be better for someone with high cholesterol to change to low fat milk and yoghurt, and only use olive oil?
A: Sit tight. This is an essay hahah.
Firstly, a gigantic high 5 for choosing to make lifestyle changes and not just jumping at the first statins (cholesterol medication) that were thrown your way! Yeehaw! Now for the info..without getting too scientific.
People freak out when they hear the word CHOLESTEROL, we shouldn’t because our bodies actually produce cholesterol, its just bad lifestyle that actually damages the cholesterol and turns it into something more dangerous when it starts to accumulate. Back in the day cholesterol was really only addressed once it reached 12 but that was then, this is now. Lifestyles are very different, stress levels are very different. The problem these days is that the ratio of good cholesterol to bad cholesterol is out of whack and our stress levels are through the roof so our arteries are narrowing and blood pressure is elevated, blood flow is restricted and we are stressed and it just gets worse. So, how to fix the situation (as naturally as possible and avoiding medications wherever possible)..
FATS: You are correct in being concerned about saturated fats, but not all fats are created equal. Even among the saturated fat group. There are saturated fats that actually lower the LDL (low density lipoproteins..the bad ones that make for stickiness and clumping on artery walls) and raise the HDL (high density lipoproteins, the good ones that don’t cause stickiness), which is exactly what we want!
These saturated fats mostly raise LDL but it improves the quality of the LDL and increases its size making it less likely to promote heart disease. It also raises HDL (“good” cholesterol). Stick with your plant based fats. Olive oil yes! Coconut oil too, it got a bad rap for many years and instead it has shown to do exactly as mentioned above, raise good HDL and change the profile of the LDL. Don’t be afraid of saturated fat, but get it from healthy sources like coconuts and grass-fed beef which both contain medium-chain triglyceride oil. Your cells burn MCTs for energy while storing very little as fat (especially in the case of coconut oil), boosting your metabolism and supporting your immune system. MCTs also help balance many hormones, including the ones that control your appetite, keeping you feeling full. Inflammation is the culprit for most diseases, and coconut oil is highly anti-inflammatory. Some people freak out because cholesterol may increase but on closer inspection the LDL/HDL has changed! Be aware of these numbers.
What you want to avoid in this category is deep fried foods, butter, yucky gross margarines (I don’t care what anyone says, these are disgusting) rather smear some coconut oil on sarmies or crackers or fresh avo (just not combined with a peanut butter sarmie ew), red meats that have major hidden saturated fats in the fibres. Lamb, beef (except grass fed), visible fats on meats like biltong, take aways that are obviously gross like deep fried calamari or pizzas drenched in fake cheeses, pork (no no bacon), cream (use coconut cream where needed on occassion). Sweets, cakes, cookies, pastries etc. Fear not, the world will not end. You have already made these great changes! You aren’t missing out, I promise!
CARBS: Carbs are not from the devil, the bad carbs are from the devil (such as pastries, pies, cakes, sugars etc). Bad carbs elevate sugar levels and this in turn elevates insulin levels and the combo of these two can also raise cholesterol levels. Low glyceamic carbs are the answer, so slow release. Real oats, sweet potato, baby potato over big potatoes, brown rice, quinoa, lentils, wholegrain, high fibre foods. This combined with a nice protein will slow the release of the sugars in the foods.
OMEGA 3: Essential to lower cholesterol, coming back to the inflammation point. Inflammation is caused by a seesaw that is unbalanced by an intake of too much omega 6 and 9 (pro inflammatory) and too little omega 3 (anti–inflam). Fish oils decrease triglyceride levels (huh?), fats stored in the blood. Too much is obviously not good and omega 3 helps to lower the LDL and raise the HDL. you need around 1000mg of a good quality omega 3 supplement. Look out for one that contains EPA and DHA (you don’t need to know in detail what these are but they are uber nb! hahah). Just need at least 400mg of each. You can eat omega 3 in the form of healthy fats from fish such as salmon, mackerel or herring. 2-3x a week should cover you nicely!
FIBRE: fibre fibre fibre is a highly underrated cholesterol treatment! Plant sterols (huh?) you find them in pulses like lentils and beans! Oats and eggplant are also good here! Fibre in a basic explanation actually helps by binding to bad cholesterol in the stomach and helps move it out of the body! BOOM! Eat up those lentils and pulses, add them to veggie dishes, cook lasagnes with them. The list is endless! I like to add chia seeds and oatbran to mealplans. They are superb and versatile!
STRESS: these days its difficult to say reduce your stress levels, stressors are everywhere. The best fight against stress is to develop proper stress filters. You mentioned that you exercise, that is excellent! Not only for stress but as a direct cholesterol fighter! Choose forms of exercise that leave you feeling rejuvenated and refreshed but also ‘worked out’. Yoga, rock climbing, pilates, kickboxing, boxing..anything that leaves you feeling ‘lighter’ on all accounts (as s side note, weight loss also helps lower cholesterol). Learn to control your stress response. Notice the triggers, how your body responds to the situation (breathing quickens, heart rate escalates, body temp may fluctuate, agitation etc) then mindfully calm yourself down and refocus on a solution as opposed to fixating on the problem causing the stress.
PROBIOTICS: For any and every issue that we experience these days, the root is often found in an unbalance in the gut! When you buy yoghurt make sure that there is a live culture probiotic in it like lactobacillus. I find that a great everyday probiotic is SOLGAR acidophilus. Found at most dischems or healthstores. Their absorption rate is excellent, which means you get what you pay for!
LOW SALT intake, salt increases blood pressure and this causes the arteries to narrow and you can just imagine how much fun that would be if the arteries are already slightly clogged up! (so no processed meats, bacon, high salt cheeses, pies etc). Like sucking a double thick smoothie through a super thin straw.
EGGS: eggs get hammered when it comes to cholesterol. It is neither here nor there at the moment with half the medical field pro eggs and half anti eggs. If you prefer to be cautious, limit the egg yolk to 3-4 times per week and stick to the whites. I eat 4 whole eggs a day and I’m in one piece, sort of hahah
So..alllllllll that blabbing and the short list is something like this..
low fat yoghurt with a probiotic in.
salmon, herring or mackerel
Game meat as opposed to beef, lamb or pork.
Unsalted nuts and seeds like pumpkin or sunflower
Beans, lentils and chickpeas
Raw or steamed green veg, lots
Avo (contains an ingredient that actually blocks the amount of cholesterol absorbed from food)
Turmeric and herbs like basil
Alfalfa (natural anti inflam)
Garlic and onions (anti inflam and help keep arteries clean)
Supplements to consider (discuss this with a naturopath or your GP):
Omega 3 (remember the EPA and DHA) huh? hahah, go back and read.
Lavender and rosemary oil have been shown to decrease cholesterol naturally
Your best bet in general is a combo of lean meats, healthy fats, raw vegetables, fruits like pineapple, pawpaw, kiwi, high fibre intake and a completely sugar free, alcohol free lifestyle! This will be a completely effective strategy to stabilise your cholesterol. Always discuss your options with your health care practioner, find someone who is aligned in your natural thought pattern. Keep this up for a few months and then retest and see how much has changed, you will be surprised! If all else fails and for some bizarre reason it doesn’t work and you need to consider medication, first look into a supplement called Policosanol, it is a natural anti-cholesterol supplement that is used instead of a statin (statins often have very icky side effects). It is a plant based product. If you serum levels reach critical levels, have a look into this. But, I am positive with all these changes and a few months of patience, breathing (literally and figuratively) you will see how your body regulates itself!
Good on you for taking the road less travelled. Proud me!
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