A review of the research (Cochrane 2012) found that by modifying the types of fat we eat the risk of heart attack or stroke was reduced by 14%. We also know from this research that simply cutting out saturated fat isn’t the answer – there are now plenty of ways your diet can lower cholesterol and improve heart health.
To understand which dietary changes will benefit you the most, you must ‘know your numbers’. There are 3 main lipids that make up your total cholesterol (TC). LDL is considered a ‘bad’ fat because it causes damage and blockages in your blood system. Triglycerides (TG) are arguably the most harmful fat and makes significant contributions to heart disease. HDL is considered a ‘good’ cholesterol and has a protective effect on your vascular system.
Foods and lifestyle changes that will lower cholesterol
According to the European Society of Cardiology and Atherosclerosis Society (European Heart Journal 2016) the following dietary changes are the most likely to lower cholesterol levels:
Reduce saturated fat to less than 7% of calories
Swap saturated fats for mono and polyunsaturated fats
Reduce/limit intake of trans fats as much as possible
Increase dietary fibre intake to 25-40g/day
Use foods enriched with phytosterols 1-2g/day
Reduction in body weight by at least 10kg
Increase physical activity habits
Reduce alcohol to 2-3 units/day for men and 1-2 units/day for women
Reduce/limit simple sugars (e.g. table and fruit sugars)
Reduction in carbohydrates
Use Omega-3 supplement
Putting it all into action
There is a lot that can be done to lower cholesterol levels through diet but putting it all together can be tricky. A dietitian can review your blood results and provide an eating/meal plan, recipes and shopping list to suit you. The effects of dietary changes take about 3 months to be seen in your blood test results so it is a good idea to get support early on to incorporate the changes early and keep them going before going back for your next blood test.