Why cholesterol is bad for you
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Cholesterol is a type of fat found in the blood. Having too much of it can cause problems as it can build up, resulting in blockages. In serious cases it can lead to medical emergencies such as heart attacks and strokes, depending on the blood vessels that are blocked.
A major cause of high cholesterol is diet.
Specifically, eating too much saturated fat can raise levels.
Therefore, health bodies have long since advocated for balanced diets, rich in fruit, vegetables and wholegrains to help reduce cholesterol.
Certain animal products are also often cited as foods that can contribute to high cholesterol.
One study, published in Baylor University Medical Center Proceedings journal in 2000, provided an analysis of various existing studies to find the best diet for those looking to reduce their levels.
Referencing an earlier study from 1995 it revealed that replacing three servings of animal product foods with vegan alternatives could lower cholesterol.
It suggested swapping two servings of cow’s milk for soy milk and one serving of meat for tofu.
This could see cholesterol levels drop as much as 10 percent.
It explained: “Another dietary variation that can lower cholesterol is the substitution of vegetable protein for animal protein in the diet using soy-based products.
“Replacing two servings of milk with soy milk and one serving of meat with tofu will lower cholesterol, low-density lipoprotein [‘bad’ cholesterol], and triglyceride levels.
“The magnitude of benefit is greater the higher one’s baseline cholesterol, with an expected seven percent to 10 percent reduction for those with moderate cholesterol elevations (200 to 330 mg/dL) who add 30 grams a day of soy product to their diet.
“The mechanism of benefit is uncertain and may be due to phytoestrogens in the soybean, which exert a salutary effect on lipid profiles similar to that of oestrogen.”
Overall, the meta-analysis championed a Mediterranean diet as one that would best lower cholesterol.
The Mediterranean diet is rich in vegetables, fruits, legumes, nuts, beans, cereals, grains, fish and unsaturated fats such as olive oil.
It avoids saturated fats and processed foods and has been consistently shown to have various health benefits.
“A number of dietary recommendations for patients with elevated cholesterol levels or coronary artery disease show evidence of benefit,” the study said.
“In terms of practical application both for primary and secondary prevention, the Mediterranean diet is both palatable and affordable and is supported by strong epidemiological and control trial data.
“Combining a Mediterranean diet with a cholesterol-lowering margarine and emphasising added fish or fish oil would theoretically further augment this effectiveness.”
The only way to know whether you have high cholesterol is to get tested.
A healthy level of total cholesterol is typically considered to be five or less millimoles per litre.
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