THEY say there are two sides to every story and when it comes to cholesterol, that saying holds true. That's because there is good cholesterol — known as high-density lipoprotein (HDL) — and bad cholesterol, which is described as low density lipoprotein (LDL).
Your lifestyle plays a key role in determining which of the two sides you are on. A diet rich in foods containing saturated fats such as red meats and pastries contributes to HDL, while healthy foods such as fruits and vegetables can help to lower your cholesterol levels. Failure to lower your cholesterol could result in a number of complications such as narrowing of the arteries, angina (chest pain), strokes, heart disease and other cardiovascular conditions.
If you are currently struggling with high cholesterol levels, you can either take medication or try the following natural remedies:
1. Increase fibre — Consume more whole grain breads, cereals and brown rice. Another great source of fibre is oatmeal, which can be had in a variety of ways. "One of the reasons people use the oats is to lower cholesterol," nutritionist Patricia Fletcher noted, while referring to local statistics that show that over 80 per cent of persons with elevated cholesterol levels are not aware of it.
2. Keep portion control in mind — Controlling your food portions is one of the best ways to lower your weight, and by extension, your cholesterol level. Obesity is one of the major factors of cardiovascular disease, so losing weight is crucial to safeguarding you against heart problems. Also, pay attention to the methods you use to prepare your foods. Baking, broiling and steaming are much better options than frying.
3. Limit stress — How you handle stress can affect your cholesterol levels, either negatively or positively. More and more studies are showing that heightened stress levels result in an increase in an individual's lipid levels and raises the risk for coronary heart disease. You can limit your stress levels by taking time out to relax more, meditating and learning how to multi-task better.
4. Have omega-3 fatty acids — These are heart-healthy fats found primarily in certain fishes and nuts. When consumed, omega-3 fatty acids can help lower your lipid profile and stabilise blood pressure. It has also been shown to decrease the growth of plaque that clogs blood vessel and prevents inflammation and the formation of blood clots.
5. Get more physically active — Doctors recommend that you get at least 30 minutes of exercise daily to reduce your risk of heart disease. Even if you are busy raising a family and working, you can still manage to get in exercise each day by walking more or by breaking up your work-out routine into 10-minute increments throughout the course of the day. You can also practise taking the stairs at work instead of the elevator.
6. Go for more low-fat products — "Low-fat" means that a product contains three grams or less per serving. So be sure to read your labels carefully when grocery shopping and pay keen attention to how many servings each item contains. Limit your total intake of fats and oils, and avoid butter and stick margarine, and limit egg yolks to three to four per week.
7. Drink alcohol in moderation — Drinking wine in moderation has been shown to improve HDL levels. Red wine, in particular, can lower inflammation levels, insulin resistance and blood clotting because it contains antioxidants and other compounds. "The French take wine with their dinner and some people have a glass of wine every day, but they don't exceed the amount," said Fletcher. She adds: "Red wine in particular has health benefits in terms of heart health and all those things." Women should have no more than one drink per day, while men should have no more than two. Pregnant women should avoid alcohol in all forms.
8. Increase fruit and vegetable consumption — Fresh fruits, vegetables, beans and whole grains have been shown to either lower bad cholesterol levels or help maintain normal levels. Aim for between five to eight servings of fruits or vegetables daily, which can be eaten raw, steamed, or juiced. Avoid using calorie-laden sauces, dressings or refined sugar. Instead, use lemon juice or vinegar on your vegetables and drink fruit and vegetable juices unsweetened or with ginger or lime.
9. Cut back on your meat intake — Fat from animal products is a huge contributor to bad cholesterol, which is responsible for heart disease and a number of other cardiovascular diseases. "When you eat animal products, you are also taking in cholesterol as well, and it could mean that you are taking in more cholesterol than is needed," said nutritionist Donovan Grant. "Trim visible fats from meat before cooking."
10. Switch sweet beverages for water — Green tea is high in antioxidants, which enables it to protect cells from damage and decreases the body's absorption of cholesterol. So, instead of gulping down sodas and sugary beverages, switch to green or black tea, water or coconut water to lower your cholesterol and receive the essential nutrients you need to keep your body healthily.