Heart-Healthy Diet for Optimal Cholesterol

Unhealthy diets and sedentary lifestyle can lead to high cholesterol. As too much cholesterol will put you at an increased risk of cardiovascular disease, such as a heart attack or stroke, therefore it is important to keep your cholesterol in check. Here are some diet tips to improve your cholesterol level.

  1. Reduce/avoid intake of unhealthy fats (saturated fats and trans fats)

- Frequent consumption of saturated fats and trans fat lead to increased bad cholesterol

- Saturated fats are mainly come from animal fats (skin and fats of meat/poultry, butter, palm oil, lard, coconut milk and full cream dairy products)

- Opt for low fat milk or plant-based milk such as almond milk and soy milk, instead of full cream milk which are high in saturated fats

- Limit/avoid intake of coconut milk-based dishes such as Nasi Lemak and curry. Substitute coconut milk in your cooking with low fat milk.

- Whereas trans fat are from fried foods, baked goods, margarine, non-dairy creamer, fast foods and processed foods. It is often listed as “hydrogenated  vegetable oil” in the ingredients list of packaged goods which indicates that the product contains added trans fats, which are usually found in processed foods (Example: French fries, potato chips, pastries and cookies). Choose food items with label “trans-fat free”.

  1. Incorporate healthy fats into your daily diet which come from vegetable oil (olive oil, canola oil, sunflower oil), nuts (almond, walnut etc), avocado, chia seeds. Good fats can help reduce bad cholesterol.

  2. Choose healthier cooking methods. For example: stir-fry, air fry, steam, boil, stew and roast. Use less oil when cooking

  3. Avoid gravy and creamy dressings

  4. Remove the skin and fats from poultry and meat

  5. Emphasize on wholefoods, instead of processed foods

  6. Increase dietary fiber intake from fruits and vegetables, wholegrains (brown rice, oats, wholemeal bread) and legumes

  7. Reduce intake of  red meat, substitute with plant-based sources of protein (peas, beans, seeds, nuts and soy products such as tofu and tempeh)

  8. Include fish in your diet at least once to twice per week. Fish such as salmon, mackerel (kembung), fresh  sardines are rich in omega 3- fatty acids

If you want to lower your bad cholesterol even further, you can also consider incorporate following foods into your daily diet:

Phytosterol (Plant sterol and stanol)

Phytosterol are found in plant cell membrane which are structurally similar to cholesterol in our body. It works by blocking cholesterol we consumed from foods from being absorbed in the digestive system. As a result, cholesterol that is not absorbed will be excreted out from our body and blood cholesterol levels reduced. They are mainly found in vegetable oils, but are also present in nuts, seeds and cereals and it is also fortified into food products such as milk. The recommended intake is 2-3 gram phytosterols a day from enriched foods and should be taken with meals in order for the compound to work.

Soya-based foods

Many soya foods are naturally low in saturated fat. Replacing meat, full cream dairy products and snacks high in saturated fat with foods low in saturated fat such as soya alternatives, as part of a healthy diet and lifestyle, will help you manage your cholesterol levels.

Oats and barley

Oats and barley contain a special form of fibre called beta-glucan. 3g of beta-glucan daily, as part of a healthy diet and lifestyle, can help to lower cholesterol.

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