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A Happy Healthy Heart


A Happy Healthy Heart

When it comes to reducing our overall risk of heart disease, some things we can change and others we can’t. For example we cannot alter our genetics, gender or age… but we can change our diet and lifestyle.

Modifiable factors in our lifestyle


Importance of a healthy weight & exercise.

KelkinIt’s well known that diet and lifestyle have a central role in lowering blood cholesterol levels. A cholesterol lowering diet does not just involve lowering saturated fats (animal fat as well as palm and coconut oil) but also including many beneficial foods in the diet. And if you are overweight weight, losing 5-10% of current weight has been shown to reduce total cholesterol by up to 10%, LDL cholesterol (the bad kind) by 15% and increase HDL cholesterol (the good kind) by 8-10%. Other important lifestyle changes to make include increasing daily exercise levels, limiting alcohol intake, reducing salt intake and stress levels and of course…. stopping smoking if you smoke.

So what is cholesterol?

It might surprise you to read that we actually need some cholesterol in our body. Cholesterol has a structural role in the walls of the cells that make up our body. Generally about 80% of the bodies cholesterol is made by the liver and about 20% comes from our daily diet.

When we talk about cholesterol levels, we often discuss our overall cholesterol levels. However, it is the breakdown of our results that is most important. Low density lipoprotein (LDL) is known as “bad” cholesterol. High density lipoprotein (HDL) is referred to as “good”cholesterol. For health reasons you want to keep the LDL cholesterol low and the HDL cholesterol high.

What should your cholesterol levels be?

Target Level If you have established heart disease or diabetes + one other risk factor
Total cholesterol Less than 5mmol/L Less than 4.5 mmol/L
LDL cholesterol Less than 3mmol/L Less than 1.8 mmol/L
HDL cholesterol Greater than 1.0 mmol/l  Greater than 1.0 mmol/l
Triglycerides Less than 2mmols/L  Less than 1.7mmols/L
(Irish Heart Foundation)

How are cholesterol levels increased?

KelkinDiet has a central role in raising and lowering blood cholesterol levels. Saturated fats tend to be solid at room temperature. They are found in animal products and in some vegetable oils like coconut and palm oils. They are transported to the liver after it has been eaten where it is converted into cholesterol. The maximum recommended amount for saturated fat intake is no more than 20g per day for a woman and no more than 30g per day for a man.

By choosing low fat dairy, leaner cuts of meats and by using healthier cooking methods, you will significantly reduce your intake of saturated fat. Avoid “hydrogenated vegetable oil” on labels. Hydrogenated or trans fats are made when oil hardens through processing therefore making them a saturated fat. Trans fats can actually increase LDL cholesterol and lower HDL cholesterol.

What fat is the best to choose?

Currently we are not eating enough of the good fats and eating too much of the bad fats. Unsaturated fats tend to be liquid at room temperature. These fats help to lower blood cholesterol if used in place of saturated fats e.g.

  • Mono-unsaturated fats (omega 9): e.g. olive and rapeseed oils, avocado and nuts.
  • Polyunsaturated fats: include omega 6 and 3 fatty acids. Omega 6 fatty acids are abundant in our diets so we don’t need to make a conscious effort to increase our intake. However our intake of omega 3 fatty acids that are found in oily fish, seeds and nuts is poor.  Eating fish, both oily and white, two or three times a week can lower LDL in two ways: by replacing meat, which contains saturated fats, and by providing LDL-lowering and triglyceride-lowering omega-3 fats.

A look at fibre:

A diet rich in fibre usually is a healthy diet rich in nutrients. However fibre is important directly too… Soluble fibre has been proven to have beneficial effects on cholesterol levels. Sources of soluble fibre include oats, fruit and vegetables as well as vegetable proteins such as nuts, seeds, beans, and pulses, including peas, soya, lentils and chickpeas. There has been a lot of research on the effect of dietary soluble fibre on serum cholesterol levels. A review of these studies showed that intakes of 9 to 16.5g/day of soluble fibres reduced overall cholesterol by 5.5 to 11% and reduced LDL cholesterol by 3.2 to 12.1%.

But let us look even closer…

KelkinBeta-glucan is a part of soluble fibre that has been shown to have cholesterol-lowering properties due to its structure. Adding beta-glucan to the diet has been shown to reduce blood cholesterol levels by up to 10% by preventing the absorption of cholesterol from the gut. However, like many foods that are good for your health, beta-glucan needs to be eaten regularly to avoid cholesterol levels returning to previous levels.

Beta glucan is found in oats which are also naturally a low glycaemic index (GI) food which can improve blood glucose control and are important in the management of obesity, heart disease and diabetes. Research over the last decade supports the suggestion that an intake of at least 3g of oat β-glucan per day may reduce total and LDL cholesterol levels by 5-10%.

Apples, grapes, strawberries and citrus fruits are rich in pectin, another type of soluble fibre that may lower LDL cholesterol too. So why not top your oat based cereal with some fruit for extra cholesterol lowering benefits.

Lecithin, a.k.a. phosphatidyl choline, is produced by the body and can be found in certain foods including egg yolks, soybeans, sunflower and wheat germ. It can be derived from soya and taken in a concentrated form via powders and supplement pills for the purpose of lowering cholesterol. It acts as an emulsifier and are thought to help metabolise fats thereby lowering cholesterol levels through the assistance of its breakdown.

The recommended dosage is 7.5g, or 1 tbsp. of lecithin granules daily.

Homocysteine is an amino acid (building block of protein) in the blood. Numerous studies have established elevated blood homocysteine as an independent risk factor for vascular disease in the general population. Folic acid and other B vitamins help break down homocysteine in the body. People at high risk of heart disease should ensure that they get enough folic acid and vitamins B6 and B12 in their diet.  They should eat fruits and lots of green, leafy vegetables daily.

Eating soybeans and foods made from them, like tofu, soya nuts and soya milk, is a great way to lower cholesterol. Analyses show that consuming 15-25g soya protein (1-3 portions) can lower LDL by up to 10%.

Good lifestyle and diet changes to make…

Fruits and vegetables (5+/day) Include fish twice a week
Include some healthy unsaturated fats like nuts, seeds, olive & rapeseed oils, avocado Avoid adding salt to your food or in cooking.
Choose high fibre carbohydrate rich foods Include some beans and pulses in your diet
Choose low fat dairy Include folate rich green leafy vegetables.
Soya Lecithin granules (1tbsp per day) Soluble fibre (9 to 16.5g/day), 3g day of Beta glucan
Maintain heatlhy weight Aim to include 30-60 minutes daily activity



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Irish Heart Foundation
Cholesterol-lowering effects of oat β-glucan – Othman RA et al  – Nutr Rev. 2011 Jun; 69(6): 299-309. doi: 10.1111/j.1753-4887.2011.00401.
The American Food and Drug Administration
Effect of 6 weeks’ consumption of β-glucan-rich oat products on cholesterol levels in mildly hypercholesterolaemic overweight adults – Charlton KE et al  – Br J Nutr. 2012 Apr;107(7):1037-47. doi: 10.1017/S0007114511003850. Epub 2011 Aug 3
Amouni Mohamed Mourad et al – Cholesterol –  Clinical Study Volume 2010 (2010), Article ID 824813, 4 pages
Influence of Soy Lecithin Administration on Hypercholesterolemia
Amouni Mohamed Mourad et al – Cholesterol – Clinical Study Volume 2010 (2010), Article ID 824813, 4 pages