Hypercholesterolemia (i.e. a blood cholesterol level over 240 mg / dl) is a condition that in the last 10 years has been particularly increasing in both sexes: it affects 38% of Italians against 24% in 1998-2002. These are the data from the Iss-Anmco Cardiovascular Epidemiological Observatory (Higher Institute of Health-National Association of Hospital Cardiologists). The most important role in controlling cholesterol levels belongs to the diet: plant-based foods and low fat are the best prevention but the importance of a correct lifestyle and regular physical activity should not be forgotten either. Let’s discover how to avoid cholesterol in this article.
WHAT IS CHOLESTEROL
Cholesterol is a fat! Largely produced by the body and minimally introduced with the diet – essential for carrying out various functions in the body.
It is involved in the digestion process , thanks to the formation of bile; participates in the production of vitamin D , useful for bone health; promotes the construction of the cell wall , in particular the nervous system; it is the precursor of hormones such as testosterone and estrogen .
Cholesterol is transported in the blood by means of specific lipoproteins that differ according to size and density : we therefore distinguish the cholesterol linked to low-density lipoproteins (LDL), so-called “bad” because it can be deposited in the walls of the arteries.
This contributes enormously to the genesis of atherosclerosis – the narrowing of the vessels – a condition often associated with the development of cardiovascular diseases ( heart attack, stroke ); HDL cholesterol , linked to high density lipoproteins, is defined as “good” because it does not cause any damage to the arteries but, on the contrary, by removing cholesterol from the vessel walls to transport it to the liver, it guarantees protection if present in good quantity.
The increase in plasma cholesterol levels is not only the prerogative of the adult but can also occur, above all for genetic reasons, in the child (the so-called familial hypercholesterolemia , which counts one case per 500 inhabitants).
About 80% of cholesterol is produced by our body and the remaining amount is absorbed by the food of animal origin we eat.
If everything works correctly, the more we take in cholesterol, the less we produce and vice versa, to maintain the right balance of this molecule in our body.
However, it can happen that this balance is interrupted and hypercholesterolemia occurs and the causes can be many: linked to genetics , diet (too many calories, too many saturated or trans fats, too many simple sugars), particular diseases such as diabetes , or endocrine problems (thyroid), smoking or poor physical activity.
An important influence in the control of plasma cholesterol levels is played by nutrition : in fact, the correction of the eating style, in mild forms, can represent the only therapy, but also in association with pharmacological therapy , an adequate diet can enhance the efficacy of cholesterol-lowering drugs and allow to reduce the dosage and any side effects. Then how to avoid cholesterol?
ANTI-CHOLESTEROL DIET: THE FOODS TO PRIVILEGE
The Mediterranean diet is able to positively affect blood cholesterol levels and become an effective weapon to defend against hypercholesterolemia .
Here, from the experts, first of all the advice on the foods to put on the table:
Cereals and legumes: they are friends of the heart. In setting up a diet, it is therefore a good idea to focus above all on the consumption of these plant foods. In particular, it is good to eat legumes 2 to 4 times a week, which help maintain adequate cholesterol levels thanks to the presence of fiber and plant sterols and 2-3 portions of vegetables and 2 of fruit per day (which reduce calories in the habitual diet and contribute with the vitamins and antioxidants contained in them to reduce the overall cardiovascular risk).
The right seasoning
Cholesterolemia is the type of fats present in the diet: saturated ones, of animal origin, cause an increase in LDL-cholesterol. While unsaturated ones, of vegetable origin, can lower it and help raise the good one. In particular, butter and lard. Try to avoid Lard in favor of polyunsaturated or monounsaturated vegetable oils, first of all extra virgin olive oil, but also those of seeds (soy, sunflower, corn, peanuts). Rice oil can also be of interest for cholesterol control thanks to the presence of the phytosterol gamma oryzanol.
Less fat in general
When it comes to fats, we don’t have to focus just condiments, but also to limit those naturally present in foods. Sausages, cheeses, eggs contain quite high amounts of fat, and if consumed in excess they can negatively affect cholesterol levels. As for dairy products: skimmed or semi-skimmed milk, low-fat yogurt and cheeses with a lower fat content should be great option.
Fiber is an important aid
Vegetable fiber reduces the intestinal absorption of fats. One more reason to give the aforementioned legumes and vegetables a place of honor in the menus, the latter possibly consuming them raw in salads. Even the bread will preferably be wholemeal, due to its higher fiber content, as well as pasta and rice. Oats, barley and spelled are also good recommendations.
Green light to blue fish
Fish, due to the particular composition of its fat, those with cholesterol problems can consume it. Indeed, a consumption of at least 2 – 3 times a week. Recommended fishes are small fishes such as blue fish (e.g. sardines and mackerel). Keep your oils far away from your fish! Indeed, try to cook in the oven, baked in foil, steamed and avoiding frying as much as possible.
Meat can be part of the diet, with a preference for white meat, but it must come from a lean cut and deprived of visible fat. Poultry, on the other hand, must be skinless.
Prefer boiling, stewing, steaming, and traditional oven and microwave cooking or grilling rather than frying or barbecuing as cooking methods.
FOODS TO LIMIT OR AVOID
To keep cholesterol in check, experts suggest limiting:
- Animal fats such as butter, lard, lard, cream
- Saturated vegetable oils : palm and rapeseed
- Offal (liver, brain, kidneys), sausages with a high content of saturated fats. We recommend to consume less sausages and preserved meats in general as prevention of cancer. The guidelines advise us not to exceed 50grams per week
- Whole or condensed milk , whole yogurt, cheeses with a high saturated fat content
- Alcoholic beverages (especially in cases of hypercholesterolemia associated with hypertriglyceridemia)
- Simple sugars such as glucose, sucrose and industrial fructose
Nutrition alone, however, is not always sufficient. It must be a healthy lifestyle with healthy foods.
In fact, experts recommend that you also pay attention to:
- Don’t smoke , as smoking lowers ‘good’ cholesterol levels (as well as damaging arteries).
- Practicing physical activity that increases ‘good’ cholesterol at the expense of ‘bad’. The choice must always be in the context of aerobic sports, such as cycling, aerobic gymnastics and dancing. These sports are good as well swimming, football, basketball, volleyball, walking at a fast pace (4-5 km / hour).
- Eliminate the pounds and especially the excess waistline , reaching values below 80 cm for women and 94 cm for men. Higher cardiovascular risk linked with values above 88 for women and 102 for men