Wholegrains like wheat, oats and barley can have a beneficial effect on cholesterol levels
According to Bupa figures, two out of three people in the UK have a cholesterol level higher than the recommended figure. Having high cholesterol affects your heart and blood vessels and increases your risk of developing cardiovascular disease as it causes fatty deposits (known as plaques) to build up inside your blood vessels.
So how to tackle the problem and enjoy a better - and perhaps longer - life? There are some basic rules. They require a change in eating habits, but if followed can improve health and, in some cases, lower cholesterol so radically that drugs will become unnecessary.
Decrease all dietary fat. Dietary fats come in two forms, saturated and unsaturated. On the whole, saturated fats remain solid when cold, whereas unsaturated fats - the good guys - remain in a soft or liquid form when cold. Saturated fats are found in meat and high-fat dairy products. Avoid meat marbled with fat, leave out fatty poultry and avoid fried or fatty skin.
Organ meats such as liver are high in cholesterol, as is the swirl of cream in soup or over dessert and grated cheddar cheese on pasta.
For years, egg yolk had been included in this list. But while eggs do contain cholesterol, tests have proved that provided they are poached, boiled or scrambled without cream or fats , they can be enjoyed without anxiety.
Butter and most solid margarines are saturated and should be eliminated. Instead, substitute with polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fats such as olive, peanut and canola oil. And also avoid palm oil, coconut oil and cocoa butter, the fat found in chocolate. Of course a little can be taken in moderation but it should be for an occasional treat rather than an everyday event.
Remove all trans-fats from the diet. In order to increase the shelf-life of products, manufacturers have ingeniously modified the type of fats they use. These chemically derived fats are called trans-fats and are sometimes labelled hydrogenated fats. Occasionally you will see that coconut or palm oil have been substituted but these are equally as bad for cholesterol problems.
Drink sensibly and within guidelines.
Reduce salt. Excess cholesterol can often be seen in those with a heavy salt intake. But it is possible to use salt substitutes instead. Be careful with manufactured products. For example, baked beans, packet and tinned soups and even cereals can have lots of added salt. Reading labels can be helpful in the fight against high cholesterol.
Reduce sugar where possible.
Now for the good news. Adding oily fish to your diet has now been proved to lower cholesterol, and some specialists recommend patients eating oily fish three to four times a week and possibly taking a fish-oil supplement for a more regulated quantity.
Increase fibre intake. Wholegrains - for example, whole oats rather than the instant variety, barley, brown rice, wholewheat and especially foods such as chickpeas and all kinds of beans are crucial in the fight against cholesterol. Try to avoid anything labelled "enriched" by the manufacturer, such as cereals or flour. This usually means that the food in question has been processed and consequently vitamins or minerals have had to be added by law.
Not only does extra fibre give a feeling of fullness and thus prevent overeating, but the insoluble fibre provides a bulky stool while the soluble fibre helps the friendly bacteria in the colon thus assisting the reduction of cholesterol.
Gut bacteria are present in all humans and form part of their physiology. When the good bacteria absorbs healthy plant fibres they contribute massive benefits. So eating generous amounts of onions, leeks, garlic, asparagus, artichokes and bananas will help to lower cholesterol.
Now a new study has revealed that flaxseeds have the potential to lower cholesterol in males only. Flaxseed lignans - the chemicals found in these plants, were found to have a protective health effect when 20g were taken daily over three weeks.
As flaxseeds are not easy to digest whole, it is advisable to buy and grind them daily when needed (use an electric spice-mill or buy ready-ground from a health-shop). Then mix into porridge, soups, stewed fruits and bread mixes.
If flaxseeds are unavailable, psyllium and oats will also contribute to a decrease in triglycerides. However, they can all have a laxative effect so you should build up intake gradually.
Certainly, there is hope for those suffering with problems of high blood cholesterol. However the secret lies in returning to the pre-industrialised way of life of our ancestors; eating fresh, healthy natural foods while decreasing high animal and dairy consumption and junk.