How Can Dietary Changes Improve High Cholesterol?

How Can Dietary Changes Improve High Cholesterol?

To combat high cholesterol, dieticians have a toolbox of dietary adjustments that have proven effective, starting with advice from the Head of Health Coaching - Registered Dietitian to swap out fatty foods and increase fiber intake. Alongside expert recommendations, we've gathered additional answers that round out a holistic approach to dietary transformation. From embracing Mediterranean diet principles to selecting lean proteins over fatty meats, here are seven dietary changes that can make a significant difference.

  • Swap Fats and Increase Fiber
  • Incorporate Soluble Fiber and Omega-3s
  • Add Plant Sterols and Stanols
  • Follow Mediterranean Diet Principles
  • Cut Trans Fats and Processed Foods
  • Include Nuts and Seeds in Diet
  • Choose Lean Proteins Over Fatty Meats

Swap Fats and Increase Fiber

Firstly, blood cholesterol levels are very tightly regulated in the body. Every cell makes its own cholesterol, and the liver contributes around 25% of the total amount.

So, when our demands for cholesterol increase, the body responds by making more, and vice versa; when the body senses that cholesterol levels are increasing beyond demand, cholesterol production will decrease.

Generally, nutritional changes don't have the significant effect on lowering cholesterol levels as we might expect.

Additionally, every individual is different and responds to foods in different ways. For example, studies have shown that while many people will see their cholesterol levels lower when they reduce their saturated fat consumption, others will see no change or their cholesterol levels increase.

However, the nutritional changes that are most likely to lower cholesterol levels are the following:

- Swapping butter for extra-virgin olive oil or other cold-pressed oils like rapeseed or avocado oil

- Generally, lowering saturated fat in the diet, particularly through reducing intake of ultra-processed foods, lowers total cholesterol (but this is very dependent on the individual)

- Lowering intake of added sugars

- Eating more fiber from plant foods

Generally, eating a diet based on whole foods like meat, fish, seafood, whole grains, fruits, and vegetables and lowering the intake of ultra-processed foods will likely decrease cholesterol levels.

Rosie Carr RD
Rosie Carr RDHead of Health Coaching - Registered Dietitian, Second Nature

Incorporate Soluble Fiber and Omega-3s

As a UESCA-certified running coach, while I'm not a dietitian, I can share that a common dietary adjustment that has shown promise among my clients with high cholesterol is the incorporation of more soluble fiber into their diet. Foods like oats, beans, lentils, and certain fruits can help reduce the absorption of cholesterol into the bloodstream. This is not only a heart-healthy choice but also supports overall digestive health, which can contribute to improved performance for runners.

Another impactful change is the introduction of healthy fats, particularly omega-3 fatty acids found in fish like salmon and mackerel, as well as in flaxseeds and walnuts. These fats support heart health by lowering triglyceride levels and can also reduce inflammation, which is beneficial for endurance athletes who are looking to improve recovery times and reduce injury risk.

Lastly, I advise a mindful approach to eating that emphasizes whole, unprocessed foods and encourages a reduction in the intake of saturated fats and sugars. This holistic perspective on diet not only helps in managing cholesterol levels but also promotes a more sustainable and balanced lifestyle, which is essential for both health and athletic performance.

Joshua Bartlett
Joshua BartlettRunning Coach, Your Next Run

Add Plant Sterols and Stanols

Increasing the intake of plant sterols and stanols can play a significant role in managing high cholesterol. These substances, found in vegetables, fruits, and whole grains, help block the absorption of cholesterol in the digestive system. Incorporating a variety of these cholesterol-lowering foods into daily meals can lead to an overall improvement in cholesterol levels.

By making simple swaps, such as choosing whole-grain bread over white, one can easily increase their consumption of these beneficial nutrients. Start exploring recipes that feature plenty of vegetables, fruits, and whole grains to begin reaping the benefits.

Follow Mediterranean Diet Principles

Adopting a Mediterranean-style eating pattern is another effective strategy to improve high cholesterol. This approach emphasizes the consumption of healthy fats, like olive oil, and includes a diverse array of fruits, vegetables, legumes, and whole grains. It also encourages eating fish and poultry in moderation while limiting red meat.

Studies have shown that this heart-healthy diet can positively impact cholesterol levels and improve cardiovascular health. Consider learning more about the Mediterranean diet and how you can incorporate its principles into your meals for better cholesterol management.

Cut Trans Fats and Processed Foods

To address high cholesterol, reducing the intake of trans fats and processed foods is crucial. These unhealthy components often raise the level of bad cholesterol in the bloodstream, thus increasing the risk of heart disease. Instead, focus on consuming foods in their natural state, such as fresh fruits, vegetables, and unprocessed grains.

Taking steps to prepare meals at home can also help control the intake of these harmful ingredients. Make it a goal to cut down on processed snacks and restaurant meals, and give priority to home-cooked ones with fresh ingredients.

Include Nuts and Seeds in Diet

Enhancing your diet with a variety of nuts and seeds is a delicious way to improve cholesterol levels. These small but mighty foods are packed with healthy fats, fiber, and protein, all of which contribute to better heart health. Including a moderate amount of nuts and seeds in daily meals can help reduce the absorption of cholesterol in your body.

They make for easy snacks and can also be added to salads, yogurt, or oatmeal. Introduce a handful of unsalted nuts or seeds into your diet and monitor how this small change can make a big difference.

Choose Lean Proteins Over Fatty Meats

Opting for lean proteins and avoiding fatty meats is essential in managing high cholesterol. Lean proteins like chicken, turkey, and fish provide the necessary nutrients without the excess saturated fats found in fattier cuts of meat. Including these lean options in your meals can contribute to lower levels of bad cholesterol and promote overall heart health.

Remember to cook these proteins using healthy methods such as grilling, baking, or steaming rather than frying. Take the next step towards better health by choosing leaner protein options for your next meal.

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