The adage ‘You are what you eat’ is especially true when it comes to maintaining our body’s cholesterol levels. While fat-rich foods raise cholesterol levels, experts discuss alternatives that are healthier and taste better while keeping cholesterol levels in check.
Hyperlipidemia is the name given to a condition where one has high cholesterol levels. Cholesterol constitutes triglycerides, VLDL (very low-density lipoproteins), LDL (low density lipoprotein), and HDL (high density lipoprotein). In that order, as the density of lipoproteins increases, they become less detrimental to our health. Therefore, while looking at the blood parameters, higher HDL and lower LDL indicate that one’s cardiac health is in a good state.
A cross-sectional study conducted among 55 families in Bandung district of Indonesia showed that reusing cooking oil that has been heated more than three times for frying foods produces saturated fats and the harmful free radicals. When such foods are consumed, it builds up free fat in the blood vessels, accumulates excess cholesterol in the blood, and leads to fatty liver.
Poor lifestyle habits such as an unhealthy diet and lack of physical activity are the major reasons for excess fat deposition in the body. As per Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2015-2020, adults should consume 45-65 per cent kcal or 130 g of carbohydrate daily and as per the National Institute of Nutrition one should limit sugar consumption to 30g a day.
When an adult consumes carbohydrates and sugar that exceed the body’s requirement, the triglyceride levels increase and result in obesity. It also increases cholesterol levels and causes cardiovascular ailments.
Sinchita Kar, senior assistant dietitian, Narayana Hospital, Kolkata, says LDL is called bad cholesterol as it causes plaque deposition in the arteries, aggravates the symptoms of cardiac illness, and serves as a risk factor for obesity.
On the contrary, increased HDL is good for cardiac functions, removes `bad’ cholesterol, and prevents plaque deposition in the arteries.
Rajendran KP, 62, a retired deputy collector from Kerala, says that during a routine examination, he was diagnosed with high cholesterol, diabetes, and hypertension. He gave up oily and fatty foods after his diagnosis. Now, he walks 3 to 4 km every morning and takes modern medicine for maintaining the cholesterol level.
Oil versus calories
A review study of 2022 published by the Journal of the Missouri State Medical Association states that consumption of diets with low to moderate carbohydrate content and replacing saturated fats with mono unsaturated fatty acids (MUFA) and poly unsaturated fatty acids (PUFA) helps one to lose excess weight, especially fats, even if their foods are rich in calories.
Kar adds, “Olive oil contains Vitamin D, E, antioxidants, and anti-inflammatory properties. It contains 75 per cent of monounsaturated fats by volume and helps in lowering LDL cholesterol levels. It is better suited as a dressing oil for salads rather than for cooking, as over-heating diminishes benefits.”
A clinical research study conducted in the US among 11,467 people aged between 20 and 64 years found that high cholesterol and high blood pressure were more common than conditions like diabetes and coronary heart disease. As a result, healthcare providers insisted on weight management, healthy diet and increased physical activity to such health conditions.
Flipping the food mix
Dr Poovizhi S, a naturopath from Namakkal, Tamil Nadu, insists on a reversal diet for weight loss: 80 per cent good fat, 5 per cent carbohydrates, and 15 per cent protein instead of the traditional diet which contains 15 per cent fat, 80 per cent carbohydrates, and 5 per cent proteins.
Vegetables: Consuming one to two cups of steamed vegetable soup with two teaspoons of butter, or one to two bowls of steamed vegetables with two teaspoons of ghee and grated coconut in a day helps in reducing bad cholesterol.
Green leafy vegetables enhance nitric oxide production in the body. The nitric oxide helps to dilate blood vessels and reduce plaque deposition in the arteries.
Eggplants or brinjals are rich in polyphenols (compounds high in antioxidants); consuming this type of food reduces cholesterol and plaque formation. Its antioxidant properties lower the risk of systemic disorders.
Phenolic components found in apples promote healthy cellular function, appropriate blood flow, and reduce total cholesterol.
Nuts are another group of foods that are rich in fibre and antioxidants. Peanuts reduce the absorption of cholesterol in the body and protect the cells from oxidative stress. Unsalted pistachios and almonds maintain the HDL level and reduce LDL level. A person can eat 20 g of nuts (five cashews, five almonds, and ten peanuts) in a day.
Low-fat dairy products such as 100-200g of boiled or grilled paneer, poultry, and fish help in reducing bad cholesterol.
Legumes, whole grains, and oats contain soluble fibres and antioxidants which lower the LDL level. In addition, oats help in removing excess saturated fat before it enters the blood stream.
Cinnamon contains cinnamaldehyde (a compound that gives colour and odour to cinnamon) and polyphenols that help in fighting hyperlipidemia. One to two cinnamon sticks can be added to two glasses of boiling water, and the liquid is reduced to one glass. It should be consumed half an hour before sleep.
Fenugreek seed extracts are rich in steroid saponins, a natural derivative of carbohydrates. The seeds reduce excess production of cholesterol and lower the levels of triglycerides. A teaspoon of fenugreek seeds is soaked overnight in a glass of water. The next morning, both the water and the seeds are to be consumed on an empty stomach.
Apart from following a healthy diet, practice of yoga reduces excess body weight, lowers total cholesterol, and helps in maintaining the body mass index.