Is cholesterol-free diet the only way to reduce blood cholesterol? Part 1

by Katya Baxter on November 2, 2011

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Many people diagnosed with high blood cholesterol levels are usually advised to opt for a low cholesterol diet . As a nutritionist and someone who has familial hypercholesterolemia running in her family, I must admit that while cutting out all sources of cholesterol from the diet might be the most ‘logical’ choice, it is not always the ‘only’ choice when it comes to healing and prevention.

Before making any further statements, I’d like to make a few things clear: the following has to do with diet alone. Medication and other therapies usually play an important role in controlling cholesterol levels especially when they are abnormally high and need immediate medical attention.

So if low- and zero-cholesterol foods are not the ‘only’ choice, what are some of the other options?

Many of us who are used to our meats and cheeses, automatically throw ourselves into the highly processed world of imitation products such as soy cheese, tofurky sausages, and cholesterol-free margarine. While the transition may be logical, let’s face it: 1) this stuff doesn’t and never will taste the same; 2) the products are mechanically engineered, meaning that they are not natural, and because of that may not always be easily digested by the body; 3) even though certain manufacturers try to stick to a list of recognizable ingredients, still many use chemicals which may be just as bad for our body as cholesterol that we are trying so hard to avoid.

But if not soy cheese and margarine, what are my other options? It is important to understand that often the high cholesterol issue stems from the very imbalance in the intake of animal derived products vs. plant based foods. So instead of completely cutting out all cholesterol containing foods, we can still keep some of them at reasonable levels, especially seafood, which is rich in ‘good’ fats, while packing our diet with foods that are rich in ‘good’ fats and antioxidants. What are they? Plants and plant based foods, of course! Not something that many of us want to hear, but that’s the inevitable truth. In fact, some research shows that as long as our diet is rich in these monounsaturated, ‘good’ fats as well as antioxidants deriving from fruits, vegetables, berries, green tea, etc. the protective effects of these substances will outweigh the potentially negative effects of cholesterol on the body.

I will share more details on which foods to avoid, foods to focus on, recipes, and menu samples later this week. Until then, pile those fruits and veggies on your plate – your body will thank you for it!

Check out these additional resources for more scientific information:

1. Nutrition & Metabolism (London) 2010 Jul 6; 7:55 Effect of long-term treatment with antioxidants (vitamin C, vitamin E, coenzyme Q10 and selenium) on arterial compliance, humoral factors and inflammatory markers in patients with multiple cardiovascular risk factors. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20604917

2. Bioscience, Biotechnology, and Biochemistry 2009 Jul; 73(7):1513-9. Ebup 2009 Jul 7. Quantitative analysis of saponins in a tea-leaf extract and their antihypercholesterolemic activity. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19584556

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