Many are lead to believe that the only way to manage blood lipids, or fats such as cholesterol and triglycerides, and to reduce the risk for cardiovascular disease is simply to take medication like statins.
While it’s true that there is a time and place for the responsible use of medications, diet and supplements can also help to improve blood lipids and reduced inflammation; known risk factors for cardiovascular disease such as heart disease and stroke.
Conventional wisdom has always focused on lowering LDL cholesterol but there’s more to the puzzle than that. Healthy blood lipids are about improving the ratios of the various lipids that are tested for with blood work such as total cholesterol, LDL & HDL cholesterol and triglycerides.
The goal of diet therapy should be about improving these ratios while reducing inflammation as well.
In a nutshell, both total & LDL cholesterol should be within an acceptable range with the aim of increasing HDL while at the same time lowering triglycerides. Also, diet should also ensure that the right type of LDL cholesterol is produced by the liver; this is essentially an issue of size.
Large LDL molecules are less atherogenic meaning they don’t contribute to atherosclerosis (plaque formation) in the same way as small LDL molecules do. Target levels for all lipids are tailored based on a person’s individual risk for cardiovascular disease which your doctor can help determine.
Eating to improve lipid ratios
The best way to lower triglycerides is to achieve and maintain a healthy body weight, increase your intake of the omega-3 fats EPA and DHA and limit refined grains & grain products [the white stuff like white bread, pasta, crackers, bungs, bagels].
The best triglyceride-lowering omega-3 fats are found in fatty fish like salmon, herring, sardines, mackerel or trout, and omega-3 fortified eggs.
Try to eat more fiber-rich foods at each meal & snack to slow down digestion and the absorption of carbohydrates; by doing so, you’ll keep insulin spikes low.
Insulin spikes and surges forces the body to forced to increased the production of triglycerides if digested carbohydrate enters the blood too quickly. Eat smaller amounts of whole grains and grain products [they can still lead to rapid rises in blood sugar if eaten in large amounts].
Try to include loads of non-starchy vegetables like broccoli, cauliflower, snap peas, green beans, kale, asparagus, peppers, Swiss chard, kale, zucchini and Bok choy for example. Check out this list for more ideas Non Starchy Vegetables
Reduce added/concentrated or ‘free’ sugars [as they’re referred to] found in sweetened beverages, candies, pies, fruit juices, pastries, dried fruit, or foods with lots of added sugars in the ingredient list, check out Sugar Goes By Many Different Names to see the way sugar can be listed in the ingredient list of package foods.
HDL levels also get a boost when a healthy a body weight is achieved; weight loss however needs to be individualized on a case by case basis.
Contrary to what’s historically been recommended, getting more saturated fat in your diet is good; it will boost HDL with little to no meaningful increase in LDL cholesterol levels.
The low fat mantra is out; get more HDL-boosting saturated fat from foods like 2% milk, yogurt and Greek yogurt, 2% cottage cheese, and other cheeses, butter, coconut milk and oil, nuts and seeds, and nut and seed butters. Increasing HDL levels will improve the all important ratios of total cholesterol:HDL, triglycerids:HDL, and LDL:HDL of of which are more predictive than LDL alone.
Eliminate HDL-lowering industrial trans fats: avoid foods that contain ‘shortening’, ‘hydrogenated’ or ‘partially hydrogenated’ vegetable oils; make reading ingredient lists a habit.
The best way to reduce inflammation, and the associated oxidation [including oxidation of LDL cholesterol and the lining of blood vessels], is to include foods that do just that: plant foods stand out in this regard.
Antioxidant-rich and anti-inflammatory foods include, but are not limited to dark green and orange fruits and vegetables, tomatoes and tomato products, mushrooms, dark chocolate, berries, green, white and black tea, and pretty much any fresh or dried herb and spice.
Also try oils like avocado and olive oil which are rich in phenolic compounds which lower inflammation and help to prevent LDL oxidation/damage.
Supplements are a great way to support a healthy diet when it comes to lipid management, reducing inflammation, LDL oxidation and heart health in general. My go-to list includes:
- Omega-3 fats – my favourite brand is NutraSea by Ascenta Health
- Vitamin D with supporting nutrients like magnesium, boron, zinc and vitamin K2
- Vitamin C
- Curcumin – a standardized product to ensure maximum absorption
- Vitamin E (but must be a good quality brand with all 8 forms/isomers, a.k.a. ‘full spectrum’)
Managing lipids such as cholesterol and triglycerides is something that can be done with a little attention to detail where diet is concerned. The good news is that it doesn’t take fancy or exotic foods; help is as close as your grocery store. With some minor tweaks and targeted use of supplements, improved heart health is easily within reach.