5 diet tips to keep your cholesterol in check

Diagnosed with high-cholesterol? Check out our top tips from a dietitian on how to maintain healthy levels.

Two in five Australian adults are living with high cholesterol.

Too much cholesterol can increase your risk of heart disease.

Heart Foundation healthcare programs manager Natalie Raffoul says high cholesterol is the leading risk factor for heart attack in Australia.

“It’s something we’re particularly worried about because it can be silent,” Natalie says.

“Many Australians might not know they are living with high cholesterol, so we’re urging anyone over 45 to see their doctor for a cholesterol test as part of a heart health check.”

What is cholesterol?

Cholesterol is a waxy, fat-like substance in the blood.

It is necessary to produce hormones and Vitamin D, and help digest our food.

There are two types of cholesterol.

What causes high cholesterol?

Natalie says there is no single cause of high cholesterol, but risk factors can include:

  • Age
  • Smoking
  • Not enough exercise
  • Overweight
  • Family history
  • ​Unhealthy diet

What should I eat to reduce cholesterol?

Eat from the 5 food groups

The Nutrition Guy, dietitian Joel Feren recommends focussing on the five core food groups for a balanced diet.

  • Vegetables and legumes/beans
  • Fruit
  • Grain (cereal) foods, mostly wholegrain
  • Lean meats and poultry, fish, eggs, tofu, nuts and seeds and legumes/beans
  • Unflavoured milk, yoghurt and cheese

“When we’re focusing on cholesterol, we want fibre rich foods, we want foods high in antioxidants, so foods like fruits, vegetables, starchy vegetables, as well as your whole grains,” Joel, who is also a spokesman for Dietitians Australia, says.

“And we certainly want to be including things like lean proteins and dairy.”

Research has shown that adopting a plant-based diet can help lower LDL and reduce the risk of heart disease.

Include protein-rich foods 

The Heart Foundation recommends plant-based proteins like beans, chickpeas, lentils, nuts and seeds, as well as fish and seafood.

Research shows these foods can reduce the risk of developing heart disease.

Eat fibre rich foods

Joel says fibre is beneficial for a wide range of reasons, but it is typically lacking in the Australian diet.

“We used to think that fibre was good just to keep us regular, but we now know it’s fantastic for our gut, it can help reduce cholesterol, and help better manage things like blood sugar,” Joel says.

“It can also help keep us fuller for longer, so it’s also great for weight maintenance.”

Joel says soluble fibre is crucial.

“It’s found in things like fruits, veggies, starchy veggies, as well as beans and legumes, and wholegrains, like oats, and barley.”

Don’t restrict foods completely

Joel says while it is important to limit certain foods, there is no need to cut them out of your diet completely.

“We don’t need to avoid or exclude certain foods, it just becomes the forbidden fruit effect, we know that doesn’t work,” Joel says.

However Joel does recommend limiting your intake of foods which are high in saturated fats and trans fats.

Foods high in saturated fat include butter, cream, coconut oil and palm oil.

Trans fats are found in baked goods such as cakes, biscuits and pastries, takeaway foods and highly processed foods.

“The liver will produce more cholesterol in the presence of saturated and trans fats,” Joel explains.

“Trans fats is a double whammy, it not only lowers your good cholesterol, the HDL, but it can also increase your LDL.”

Make simple swaps

Joel recommends making simple swaps, such as:

  • Using avocado instead of butter
  • Trying extra virgin olive oil instead of using coconut oil
  • Try a piece of fruit instead of pastries
  • Lean cuts of meat over fatty cuts of meat
  • Using herbs and spices instead of salt

Click play to watch as the House of Wellness TV hosts chat with leading experts on managing cholesterol and blood pressure.

For more topical health tips, tune in to House of Wellness TV, 2pm Fridays and 12 noon Sundays, on Channel 7. 

Written by Bianca Carmona.