According to the most recent Australian health survey, 1 in 2 adults have high blood cholesterol levels (>5 mmol/L) 1 What is even more concerning is that only about 10% of this group were aware of this problem, which suggests that the majority are either unaware, or did not consider it to be a health issue.
What is cholesterol?
Cholesterol is an essential type of fat that is carried in the blood. It helps to build cell membranes, make hormones like oestrogen and testosterone and help your metabolism work efficiently.
There are two types:
- Low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol – carries most of the cholesterol to the cells. Commonly known as the ‘bad’ cholesterol because too much of it can cause your arteries to become blocked. For those that have existing risk factors associated with heart disease (e.g. high blood pressure), then LDL levels should be kept below 2 mmol/L).
- High-density lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol – helps remove excess cholesterol out of the cells. Commonly known as the ‘good’ cholesterol.
About ¾ of the cholesterol in our bodies is made in the liver and the rest may come from the types of fats we eat. When we eat animal fats, the liver transports the fat, together with cholesterol, into our bloodstream. Too much LDL cholesterol circulating within our bloodstream leads to fatty deposits developing in the arteries. This causes the vessels to narrow and they can eventually become blocked, which may lead to heart disease and stroke.
How to manage high cholesterol?
Your doctor or health professional will advise you if you require medication to manage your cholesterol levels. But even if you are taking medication, making dietary and lifestyle changes could help reduce these levels so that there is no need for ongoing medication.
Following a healthy diet and lifestyle is essential if you wish to manage your cholesterol levels naturally. This includes not smoking and allowing only moderate alcohol intake, as well as eating a diet high in fresh fruit, vegetables and whole grains. Daily exercise is also key.
What foods can help to lower LDL cholesterol?
Some foods such as those that are high in saturated fat should be reduced. There is strong evidence that other foods should be increased to help manage your cholesterol levels the natural way. These specifically include plant sterols, as well as a specific type of soluble fibre called beta glucan.
Plant sterols are found naturally in foods including sunflower and canola seeds, vegetable oils and (in smaller amounts) in nuts, legumes, cereals, fruit and vegetables. Some margarine, milks and breakfast cereals have concentrated plant sterols added to them. A daily intake of 2 grams of plant sterols from plant sterol enriched foods, as part of a healthy diet and lifestyle, has been shown to lower LDL cholesterol by up to 9%. 2
Beta-glucan is a soluble fibre that dissolves in the digestive tract to form a gel that binds to cholesterol. The gel and the cholesterol are then excreted as part of the body’s waste, thereby helping to lower re-absorption. Studies show that eating about 3g of beta glucan a day helps to lower re-absorption. One of the best sources of Beta-glucan is BARLEYmax®, a natural cereal wholegrain that contains on average 70% more Beta-glucan than other wholegrains (such as oats). BARLEYmax® can be found in a range of products to help you achieve a daily intake of 3g of beta glucan per day, and reduce your cholesterol levels the natural way.
BSc (Hons), MNutrDiet, Grad, Dip Business