You wield the power to achieve healthy cholesterol levels by eating a satisfying diet rich in “taboo” foods.
In #8 of my article, 10 Surprising Things You Need to Know About Cholesterol, I explain how cholesterol isn’t what you think it is, and how cholesterol and your diet work together in different ways than you’ve been told by most medical professionals and mainstream media.
Despite what you’ve likely heard, healthy cholesterol levels aren’t achieved
- by lowering dietary cholesterol
- by lowering total cholesterol levels
- by lowering LDL on standard cholesterol tests (standard cholesterol tests can provide inaccurate results about disease-risk. To learn more about your best indicators of heart disease risk, be sure to check out #9 of the above-linked article).
Read on to learn about 5 surprising dietary changes that actually do help you achieve healthy cholesterol levels.
#1 Minimize foods that trigger oxidation and inflammation.
Foods that trigger oxidation and inflammation include:
- omega-6 polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFA) – Largely present in plant foods, commercial animal foods, and any grain/corn/soy/”vegetarian”-fed animal foods, even if they’re organic. (However, in grass-fed pastured animal foods omega-6 PUFA are found in ideal proportions).
- synthetic trans fats – Found in processed foods. Don’t eat processed foods. Need I say more?
- sugar and starch – Abundant in processed foods, whole grains, legumes, beans, starchy vegetables, and fruits.
Over time, excess consumption of these substances stress artery walls, wearing away elasticity, and creating cracks in the lining. The body sends in cholesterol to “repair” the cracks. After years of this “repair,” plaque begins to form, increasing heart disease risk.
Research demonstrates this plaque is largely composed of unstable fats. Which fats are unstable? Unsaturated fats: PUFA, and MUFA (monounsaturated fat)–but it’s omega-6 PUFA that is the double-whammy because it is both highly inflammatory and unstable.
As I repeat over and over again in my book Eat Like a Fatass, Look Like a Goddess: The Untold Story of Healthy Foods, inflammation is the root of disease. Same with oxidation. Keep the above in check, and your body will thank you.
#2 Minimize foods that cause the body to create too much of certain kinds of truly dangerous LDL cholesterol.
You want to limit these foods:
- starchy non-veggie carbs (grains, legumes, beans)
- omega-6 polyunsaturated fats
Eliminate: trans fats/hydrogenated oils, and refined vegetable oils altogether.
These foods cause your body to make the truly bad kind of LDL: the small dense kind. Yes, you read that correctly: there is both a bad and a good kind of LDL, which is solely referred to as the “bad” kind of cholesterol by most medical practitioners and mainstream media. (Read more about this in my article 10 Surprising Things You Need to Know About Cholesterol.)
(Now that you’ve read #1 and #2, do you see a pattern forming here?)
#3 Eat more delicious taboo foods that raise good HDL cholesterol, or raise HDL and LDL in proportion to one another, or raise “fluffier” non-dangerous varieties of LDL. These foods include:
- Full-fat meat, dairy and whole eggs from grass-fed, pastured animals
- Coconut and palm oils
- Chocolate (yes! Be sure to stick with smaller portions of dark chocolate that contain at least 80% cocoa)
Like many things in nature and nutrition, cholesterol isn’t so much about quantity (“high” and “low”) as it is about proportions. And the devil is in the details. The key is the ratio of certain kinds of LDL to HDL.
- Not Good = Something you eat causes your small, dense LDL levels to go up
- Good = Something you eat causes your HDL levels to go up
- Good = Something you eat causes your bigger, “fluffier” LDL levels to go up
- Good = Something you eat causes your LDL and HDL levels to both go up in proportion to one another.
Also, just because a food doesn’t contain dietary cholesterol doesn’t mean it doesn’t trigger your body’s production of cholesterol–for better or for worse.
For example, coconut oil doesn’t have any dietary cholesterol, but it will cause your body to make the healthy fluffy varieties of LDL cholesterol. On the other hand, whole grains do not contain cholesterol, but their high starch content will trigger your body to make smaller, denser “bad” LDL cholesterol.
#4 Eat more foods rich in antioxidants, and precursors to antioxidants to reduce the risk of LDL cholesterol oxidation.
Antioxidant-rich foods include
- Colorful vegetables (these include many varieties of antioxidant compounds)
- Whole eggs, full-fat meat and dairy from grass-fed, pastured animals (includes butter, cheese, yogurt, kefir, milk—these will contain active forms of vitamin A)
- Wild salmon (astaxanthin)
(Notice how grains, legumes and beans fall nowhere in this list? Because they simply do not compare.)
#5 Eat more fiber-rich foods to help remove unneeded cholesterol from the body.
Naturally fiber-rich foods (that are also low in starch and sugar) include
- Colorful veggies
- Avocados (one medium-sized avocado boasts around 10 grams of fiber!)
- Berries (although these are lower in sugar than most fruits, don’t go overboard; eat them in smaller portions)
- Chia and flax seeds (eat these after soaking, in smaller portions; grind flax seeds; if you experience constipation, experiment with removing from your diet. Note: both chia and flax are very high in omega-6 PUFA, so should not be a major source of fiber or fat in the diet. Learn more about the hype surrounding these foods in my article You’re Being Fed BS About Omega-3 from Chia, Flax & Plant Foods (and What You Can Do about It).
As you can see, deliciously satiating foods promote healthy cholesterol levels, making it easy for you to integrate healthy nutrition practices every day, at every meal.
If you’re fired up to learn more about all the provocative rigorously-evidence-based ideas presented in this article, pick up my bestselling book, Eat Like a Fatass, Look Like a Goddess: The Untold Story of Healthy Foods.