It has now been three months since I found out I had high cholesterol. After making some fairly easy changes to my diet, I reduced my cholesterol to an acceptable level, but I couldn’t end it there. Unlike a lot of diets, this is one I can’t ever give up! I have to maintain this for the rest of my life, otherwise I could risk developing heart disease.
Luckily it doesn’t really feel like a ‘diet’ in the normal sense of the word, because a lot of the changes I’ve made have been to eat more of certain foods. And thanks to Pinterest, blogs and recipe websites, I’ve found loads of delicious and interesting ways to incorporate these foods into my meals and snacks.
I’ve learnt so much about food and nutrition in the last three months from the internet. The only problem with internet research is that there is so much conflicting information around, which can be really confusing! For example, some websites say that coconut oil is the healthiest thing in the world, and that the saturated fat it contains is the ‘good’ sort, meaning it’s great for those who want to lower their cholesterol. But other websites say that those who are trying to reduce their bad cholesterol (LDL) should avoid it like the plague. So I have no idea what to believe!
I used to eat coconut oil fairly frequently when I had high cholesterol. I stopped eating it after my health check in February, just in case, but I have no way of knowing whether it actually did contribute towards my high cholesterol, because I made other dietary changes at the same time as giving up coconut oil.
I realise now that the most important thing is to find a ‘diet’ that works for you, and one that doesn’t feel like a diet at all. If you’re forcing yourself to eat foods you hate every single day, then it’s just not sustainable, and if you’re anything like me, you’ll probably end up giving up.
For example, I know that soya milk is potentially a better alternative to normal milk in terms of cholesterol reducing benefits, but I just don’t like the taste of it in my coffee. I love coffee and really don’t want to ruin the experience of drinking it. So I have continued to use dairy semi-skimmed milk in my coffee, and have found alternative ways of incorporating soya into my daily diet, such as eating soya yoghurt with my morning muesli, or snacking on ‘Nakd’ crunch bars, which contain soya protein pieces.
I also find it helps to stick to the 80:20 rule, i.e. eating foods that are low in saturated fat and that actively lower cholesterol for 80% of the time. Then in the other 20% of time, I eat foods I love that do not fit into a traditional cholesterol diet, like burgers and pizzas.
There are lots of different foods that you can eat to help lower your cholesterol. As my cholesterol was so high in February, I decided I would make as many of the recommended changes as I could, because I wanted the give myself the best possible chance of reducing my bad cholesterol (LDL). I was really inspired by this article by Michael Mosley, who has done some really interesting tv documentaries on science, medicine, health and diet. His article challenges the reliance on statins, and like me, he questions whether simple changes in diet can have the same results.
Michael was involved in a study involving 42 volunteers, all of whom had cholesterol concerns. The volunteers where split into 3 groups:-
- The first group was asked to go on a traditional low cholesterol diet, avoiding foods high in saturated fats by switching from animal fats to vegetable-based or low fat foods.
- The second group didn’t have to give up anything, but was asked to eat 75g of oats a day.
- The third group was also asked to carry on eating what they normally ate, but was asked to eat 60g of almonds a day.
Michael, who has had a history of high cholesterol, decided that instead of just doing one of the ‘diets’, he would combine all three elements to see if that would have a bigger effect.
The results of the study were really interesting. Half of the almond eaters from the third group had a positive response, and half had a negative response (i.e. their cholesterol actually went up), so the overall result for that group was no change.
The traditional cholesterol diet group, and the oat eaters both saw positive changes in their cholesterol, with an average reduction in LDL cholesterol of 13% and 10% respectively.
The most interesting result was that Michael’s cholesterol fell by 42%, which is in line with what most people experience who go on statins. So, as he’d hoped, combining all of the recommendations had given the biggest result.
I was really inspired by his findings, so I decided to do the same thing, i.e. make as many changes as I could (within reason) to get the biggest impact. I even downloaded an app called ‘Cholesterol Down’ which had a checklist of the key foods to eat every day, so that I could tick them off and stay on track. And it worked! I managed to reduce my cholesterol by a significant amount in just under six weeks.
Although there were quite a lot of foods to incorporate, it was fairly easy to find ways of including them in my meals, for example:-
- Adding ground flaxseeds to my breakfast muesli, and eating it with soya yoghurt instead of my usual low fat dairy yoghurt.
- Eating an apple as a snack mid-morning.
- Adding beans to my lunch, such as chickpeas, soya beans or butter beans.
- Using basil-infused olive oil as a salad dressing, instead of mayonnaise.
- Snacking on oatcakes topped with almond butter or houmous.
- Having a Benecol yoghurt drink with my dinner.
None of these changes were too drastic, and all the new foods I was adding, like beans, basil oil and oatcakes with almond butter, actually tasted pretty good. Once I got going, it just became habit, and now I hardly think about all these new things I eat. I actually crave oatcakes now as a snack! I know, I’m a massive weido.
I really want to share this knowledge with others who have high cholesterol, because I’m not sure it’s very widely known that changing your diet can make such a significant difference to cholesterol levels. I really hope I can raise awareness of this with my blog, and hopefully reduce the number of people who have to resort to taking statins.
Click here to read the latest update on my progress.