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.”
Here are her top food choices for helping to lower cholesterol through diet.
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.
The pectin in apples is scientifically known for reducing cholesterol, says Julie. A rich source of soluble fibre, it acts like sponge, “sopping up the cholesterol in your digestive system”. While a lot of us think ‘wheat bran’ when we think of fibre, Julie says wheat bran can be hard to digest and leave some people feeling bloated. “Fruit and seed-based fibres are best.” (As always, it’s advisable to check with your doctor before introducing supplements into your diet in case they interact with any medications you’re taking.)
RECIPE: Hemp Energy Bar
By Julie Daniluk, RHN
This bar is perfect for someone who wants energy without too much sweetness. This natural protein bar boasts great minerals like selenium, zinc, and calcium. The combination makes a great energy and recovery bar post workout. The course salt gives this bar a special sweet and salty edge. You don’t have to dehydrate these bars, but if you do they travel better and have the texture of a store-bought bar.
3/4 cup tahini (sesame seed paste)
1 ½ cups dried figs, chopped
1/4 cup honey or rice syrup
1/2 cup brazil nuts
3/4 cup walnuts
1/4 cup Hemp Pro 70 protein powder
1/2 tbsp pure vanilla extract
1/2 tbsp cinnamon
3/4 cup hemp hearts
1/2 tsp grey or pink coarse salt (optional)
1 tsp maca root powder
1) Blend the tahini and figs in food processor with the S-blade, then add sweetener and the remaining ingredients, mixing well until blended but chunky.
2) Evenly roll out the mixture onto parchment-lined dehydrator trays (or cookie tray if using an oven) to 1/2 inch thickness.
3) Freeze for 45 minutes, then cut into bars (with the paper left underneath for support) with a sharp knife.
4) If you need the bars to last a long time dehydrate for 6 hours at 115°F. If using an oven, bake at 125°F for 2 hours. Be very careful not to overcook the seeds, or the nutritional value of the essential fats will be lost.
5) Wrap bars individually or place them in a cookie tin and store in the fridge.