I got a big wake up call in February. I went for a Vitality health check, mainly because I wanted to complete the non-smokers test to get cashback on my health insurance. I eat a pretty balanced diet, have a healthy BMI (21), don’t drink too much alcohol and I’m fairly active, so I wasn’t too worried about the results.
I’ve had health checks at work in the past, and my cholesterol results were always pretty high, but as I was in my twenties I figured I was young and didn’t need to worry about it too much.
But I was in for a big shock. My total cholesterol came out at 6.2 mmol/l:-
According to health guidelines, that puts me in the High category:-
Looking back at my previous cholesterol results, I’ve realised that my total cholesterol has been increasing steadily over the last few years, but I’ve just been ignoring it.
My HDL (good cholesterol) score of 2.3 made me feel a bit better, but that still didn’t make up for the fact that my total cholesterol was so high. What made it worse was that my husband (who has cheese and chocolate most days, drinks loads of beer, and pretty much eats whatever he likes) had his health check at the same time, and his cholesterol score was ‘perfect’. Life can be so unfair sometimes! Saying that though, he does do tons of exercise, and actually eats a pretty balanced diet, so probably not so unfair really.
My Plan Of Action
As I’m in my early thirties, I realised I couldn’t just sweep it under the carpet like I had done in the past. So I got straight onto Google and did some research. I wanted to avoid the medication route (i.e. taking statins), so I looked into what else I could do to reduce my cholesterol naturally.
As my good cholesterol levels are high I decided to mainly focus on lowering my bad cholesterol (LDL), so I researched foods that would help me do that. I didn’t want to change my diet dramatically, and as I work full-time, I don’t want to spend hours preparing meals and snacks. So, based on my online research and after talking to a few doctor friends, I decided to do the following, and test my cholesterol again in 6 weeks’ time:-
1. Eat more oats
Fibre-rich oats are one of the cheapest and simplest things you can eat to help reduce cholesterol naturally. I try to eat oats every day by eating muesli, porridge and other oat-based breakfasts or desserts.
I also often have a couple of oatcakes in the afternoon as a snack with almond butter, cottage cheese or avocado. Very delicious and very filling, although admittedly I do get some funny looks at work.
2. Add ground flaxseeds to meals
I’d read about flaxseeds before, but it wasn’t until I did my research that I realised how effective they can be at reducing cholesterol naturally. I bought a massive bag from Holland and Barrett, and started putting a tablespoon in my morning muesli every day.
You can’t really taste ground flaxseeds, so I’ve also been adding them to all sorts of things, like curries, stews, soups, pasta dishes and salads. My husband hasn’t noticed the difference, or at least he hasn’t mentioned it. Yet…
3. Swap dairy yoghurts with soya yoghurts
Soya yoghurts are low in saturated fat and research suggests that soya products in general can help to reduce cholesterol naturally. There are lots of different varieties and flavours available nowadays. I eat plain soya yoghurt most days with my morning muesli, and have the flavoured ones occasionally with fruit, which makes a great cholesterol-friendly snack.
4. Eat more apples
When I was growing up, my mum always used to say “an apple a day keeps the doctor away”. Turns out, she was onto something. Not only do they count towards your five a day, but apples also contain pectin, which can help to reduce cholesterol naturally by lowering insulin secretion. Here are some ideas to fit more into your daily diet.
5. Add half a cup of beans to meals
Beans, beans, good for your heart! Kidney beans, butter beans, chickpeas, black beans, (even baked beans) are all high in cholesterol-reducing soluble fibre. They’re cheap as well, so I add them straight from the tin to everything, from salads and soups, to curries, stews and spag bol. Snacking on carrot sticks or pitta bread dipped in houmous is another great way to add soluble fibre to your daily diet.
Here are some of my favourite recipes with added beans:-
- Chicken and vegetable curry (with chickpeas)
- Spiced salmon filo pie (with chickpeas)
- Sausage and mushroom casserole (with butter beans)
6. Snack on almonds
Almonds are high in monounsaturated fats, which can help to reduce cholesterol naturally. I snack on almonds and also sprinkle flaked almonds on yoghurt, muesli, salads and Thai curries. I buy massive bags from Tesco that aren’t too expensive and last for ages.
Here are some cholesterol-friendly recipes with almonds:-
7. Drink a Benecol yoghurt drink every day
Benecol foods contain plant stanols, which have been proven to lower bad cholesterol if consumed regularly. I drink a bottle every day with my evening meal and find them really tasty and convenient. They’re not recommended for pregnant or breast feeding women and children under five years old, and also may not be suitable for anyone taking cholesterol lowering medication. It’s best to consult your GP before using any of Benecol’s products to make sure they’re suitable for your individual needs.
8. Eat less saturated fat
Eating a diet that is low in saturated fat is a great way to reduce your cholesterol naturally. I mostly drink skimmed or semi-skimmed milk in my coffee. I’ve reduced the amount of cheese I eat, and use olive oil for cooking. I mainly eat lean beef, chicken, turkey and fish (especially oily fish like salmon), and try to get my five fruit and veg a day.
How It’s Going So Far
All of these have been pretty simple changes to make. I don’t do all of them every day, but I try to do as many as possible. I get full more quickly at mealtimes now because of the oats and beans, so don’t eat as much as I did before. I also eat frequently throughout the day, which is good as it keeps my blood sugar stable and means I have lots of energy.
I definitely don’t feel like I’m on a diet, so if this helps to reduce my cholesterol naturally and means I can reduce the risk of heart disease without taking statins, then I think I could easily continue eating this way forever. I haven’t increased my exercise, although this has been proven to help manage cholesterol. I do the recommended 10,000-12,500 steps a day though, as I did before, mainly by walking during my lunch hour, walking home from the station and walking our dog.
I’ve booked in another health check at the end of March, so I’m hoping my cholesterol will have gone down a bit. Fingers crossed!
[Update:- I managed to get my cholesterol down to 4.4l! Details in this post].