Cardiovascular disease refers to a group of conditions including heart attack, stroke and narrowing of the blood vessels. It is the most common cause of death accounting for 31.4% of all deaths worldwide.
Cholesterol is made mainly by our liver. It is needed to make steroid hormones, vitamin D, as well as bile acids, which help the gut absorb and digest dietary fat. Cholesterol in the blood is transported by protein structures known as lipoproteins. There are two types of lipoprotein:
High Density Lipoprotein (HDL) a.k.a. the good cholesterol
Low Density Lipoprotein (LDL) a.k.a. the bad cholesterol
Among the main factors that contribute to the development of cardiovascular disease are:
Raised levels of LDL-cholesterol
Reduced levels of HDL-cholesterol
The food we eat influences whether the cholesterol in our blood is transported as LDL or HDL. In simple words, more LDL-cholesterol is bad news and more HDL-cholesterol is good news!
Through changing our diet and lifestyle, we can, to a great extent, prevent the development of cardiovascular disease.
How can we improve our lipid profile through diet?
Consuming too much fat can lead to raised levels of blood cholesterol and hence, increase the risk of heart disease. Having said that, it is essential that we include some fat in our diet, as fats are crucial for the absorption of fat-soluble vitamins (A, D, E, K).
In general it is recommended that dietary fat contributes to no less than 15% and no more than 35% of our total daily energy intake. But, the quality of the fat we consume, is more important than the total amount when it comes to our heart health.
The fats we ideally need to consume less of are saturated fats and trans fats. Foods high in such fats include:
Processed meats such as sausages
Dairy products such as butter, cream, cheese, lard
Processed foods and snacks such as crackers, biscuits
To achieve optimal cholesterol levels, it is recommended that you swap the above fat with unsaturated fat. Foods rich in unsaturated fats are:
Some nuts such as almonds
Recent scientific evidence has shown that not only fats, but also carbohydrates have the power to influence blood cholesterol levels. Consuming too much refined sugars (e.g. sugar-sweetened beverages) can have a negative effect on our blood cholesterol levels.
A diet that has been shown to promote a healthy cholesterol profile, and reduce the risk of heart disease, is the Mediterranean diet. Main components of this diet are :
Fruits and vegetables
Wholegrains e.g. whole grain bread, brown rice, oats
Nuts and seeds
Legumes and pulses
Fish- particularly oily fish
Moderate alcohol consumption
This diet is not a low-fat diet, but rather contains high amounts of healthy fats, and low amounts of saturated and trans fats, considered unhealthy.
Additionally, scientific studies have identified “Super Foods” that actively help lower bad cholesterol levels. These are:
Foods fortified with plant sterols and stanols
Fruits and vegetables
Mental health and cholesterol levels
Studies have shown that stress can negatively influence our blood cholesterol levels, and is detrimental to our cardiovascular health.