According to Statistics Canada, close to 60 per cent of 40-to-59-year-olds have unhealthy levels of cholesterol. Almost 45 per cent of people aged 60 to 79 do too. These are concerning trends since high cholesterol is one of the major controllable risk factors for heart attacks, strokes and cardiovascular disease.
It’s a problem that’s often addressed by a group of prescription drugs known as statins. But there are other ways to help reduce cholesterol – including eating certain types of food.
Julie Daniluk, a Toronto-based registered nutritionist, health educator, writer and TV personality, is a big believer in the ability of food to maximize health. “Heart disease is also connected to inflammation and that’s why a lot of foods I recommend are not only proven to reduce cholesterol, but they also reduce overall inflammation. They’re doing double duty.”
1) Oily fish
“The number-one food that helps with cholesterol reduction is oily fish, such as sardines, anchovies, salmon and arctic char – and there’s a tremendous amount of data to support this.” These fish have powerful anti-inflammatory properties – and the smaller the fish the better since they’re low in toxins, says Julie. Some people may find it easier to take fish oil capsules instead of eating high quality oily fish three times a week, which is what she says it takes to reap the maximum benefits. If that’s the case, she recommends a daily dose of between 1,000 and 3,000 mg of good quality, filtered and distilled anchovy and sardine oil in capsule form.
2) Pomegranate and cherry juice
“I have my Dad on a steady stream of pomegranate juice every day,” she says, explaining that both pomegranate and cherry juice are rich in antioxidants and have cholesterol-lowering properties. But they have to be unsweetened. Julie recommends a daily dose of a few ounces of the unsweetened juice mixed in a glass of water. The other option is to simply eat the fruits themselves.
“This is a beautiful spice which is scientifically proven to reduce inflammation, especially in the joints, but now we know it also reduces cholesterol.” It’s the active substance in turmeric, called curcumin, that’s so potent. Long used in Asian medicine, it can be found in capsule form. But turmeric, which is the non-spicy ingredient in curry powders (so won’t upset sensitive stomachs), can also be added to soups, smoothies and dips. If you opt for capsule form, July recommends taking 500 mg a day. Research has shown, she says, that people begin to see benefits after just seven days.
4) Raw nuts and seeds
Walnuts, almonds, macadamia and hemp hearts all contain rich amounts of good quality fats that have been shown to reduce cholesterol, Julie says. The key is to eat them raw and unsalted, not roasted, and to avoid eating handfuls at a time. If you’re one of those people who adore salted nuts and can’t imagine going the raw, unsalted route, Julie suggests mixing in just a small amount of salted, roasted nuts or adding some 70 per cent dark chocolate chips to pump it up a notch. The dark chocolate also helps to reduce cholesterol and is rich in magnesium which helps to lower blood pressure. Julie also highly recommends hemp hearts (the inner shell of the hemp seed). “They’re a beautiful source of iron and overall one of the most nutrient-dense of all the seeds.” They can be sprinkled on cereals, yogurt, salads or used in smoothies. (See her recipe for hemp energy bars at the end of this article.)
5) Dark, leafy greens
Things like beet tops, chard and spinach are great sources of Vitamin B, which Julie says helps to reduce cholesterol and prevent plaque build-up in the arteries. They also contain niacin, which she says is a cholesterol fighter.