Guest Post from the fabulous Joana Teixeira on how to improve your cholesterol through a healthy plant-based diet
A lot of us are trying to lower our cholesterol these days. This is all part of taking care of our body, along with reducing the amount of sugar we eat, getting some regular exercise and eating those all-important five-a-day. But how many of us actually know what cholesterol is and the types of food we should and should not be eating to try and reduce our levels? To help anyone who finds this whole subject a little confusing here’s our guide to cholesterol, the causes of high cholesterol levels and why a plant-based diet might just be the way to go.
What is cholesterol?
Cholesterol is a type of fat produced in the liver that is important to many bodily functions. While we often think of cholesterol as something that needs to be eradicated from our diets, in fact it is an important substance within the body and is always needed to some extent. Confusion often comes because there are actually two different types of cholesterol – LDL or so-called bad cholesterol and HDL or so-called good cholesterol (some people find it helpful to remember the difference between the two by thinking of ‘h’ for happy cholesterol!). While it’s important to limit our levels of LDL cholesterol, in fact the body needs a good amount of HDL cholesterol.
Causes of high cholesterol
There are lots of different causes of high cholesterol. Some are what health professionals call unmodifiable i.e. things you can’t change like age and ethnic background. However, many of the causes of high cholesterol levels are things over which we have a lot of control. For example, quitting smoking is likely to help reduce your cholesterol levels, as is doing more exercise. Diet is of course a big factor too. The total amount of saturated fat in your diet is the important thing to watch, as a diet high in saturated fat may increase your chances of high cholesterol in the long run.
Why might plant-based foods help lower cholesterol?
The best way, therefore, to deal with the causes of high cholesterol in dietary terms is to try and eat a healthy diet that includes a lot of vegetables, lean protein and whole grains. Replacing foods high in saturated fat with those that have more unsaturated fat is another important approach. Many advocate consuming more plant-based foods to help you do this. Saturated fat is generally found in meat and dairy products – so those coming from animals. In contrast, many unsaturated fat foods are plant-based – think nuts, seeds and avocadoes. If you want to make a simple, if challenging, change to your diet to help combat the causes of high cholesterol levels, replacing animal-based products with plant ones is a good place to start.
That’s just a very short introduction to a big topic. Cholesterol can be complicated, but it’s worth thinking about properly as getting on top of it can really help keep you healthy long-term. Try to smoke and drink less, exercise more and focus on a healthy diet – give plant-based foods a go!
Your guide to living whole and well. Emma Olliff is a Registered Nutritional Therapist, wellness expert, food lover, and advocate for healthy living!