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High cholesterol: The common foods that can reduce ‘bad’ cholesterol

Why cholesterol is bad for you

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There are multiple factors that can lead to high cholesterol including exercise, age, and genetics. However, diet is often one of the major causes.Those at risk of or suffering with high cholesterol will be encouraged to reduce the intake of fatty, sugary and processed foods as a result.

According to the British Heart Foundation (BHF) there are two compounds found in a lot of plant-based foods that can reduce “bad” cholesterol – known as sterols and stanols.

There are two types of cholesterol found in the blood, which are often referred to as “good” and “bad” cholesterol.

Having “good” cholesterol, known as high-density lipoprotein (HDL), makes you less likely to suffer these complications.

Whereas “bad” cholesterol or low-density lipoprotein (LDL) puts you at greater risk of this.

Sterols and stanols are “naturally” found in a variety of plant-based sources such as vegetable oils, grain products such as breads and cereals, nuts, seeds, fruits and vegetables.

They have also been added to several foods including margarines, spreads, soft cheeses and yoghurts.

The BHF explains: “Plant sterols and stanols have a similar chemical structure to cholesterol and are thought to decrease the absorption of cholesterol in our intestine.

“This reduction in cholesterol absorption increases our liver’s uptake of LDL cholesterol and as a result can reduce our blood LDL cholesterol levels.

“They seem to have no effect on the heart-friendly HDL cholesterol levels or triglycerides.”

The charity states how two grams a day can result in a significant reduction.

“The effect varies between individuals, but there is evidence to show that plant sterols and stanols can help to reduce LDL cholesterol by levels up to 10-15 percent when two grams a day is regularly consumed as part of a healthy balanced diet.”

This amount could be found in two to three portions, or a combination, of:

  • Spread, such as margarine on one to two slices of bread
  • Yoghurt (125g)
  • Milk (250ml)
  • Cheese (20g).


However, the BHF warns: “You do not need to consume more than the recommended amount.

“There are no significant additional cholesterol lowering benefits over 2.5 grams of stanol or sterol and it’s advised that you don’t consume more than three grams per day.”

It also states that foods containing sterols and stanols are “not a substitute” for a healthy diet or cholesterol lowering drugs such as statins.

“Whilst there is an expectation that their cholesterol lowering effect will lead to fewer heart attacks, there is no evidence to show this,” it says.

“You’ll still need to make changes to your diet and lifestyle to help reduce your cholesterol levels and your overall risk of coronary heart disease.”

Generally a healthy level of total cholesterol in the blood is considered to be five or less millimoles per litre (mmol/l).

More specifically, a healthy level of high-density lipoprotein is one or more mmol/l, and you should have four or less mmol/l of low-density lipoprotein.

To reduce cholesterol levels the NHS advises:

  • Eating less saturated fat
  • Exercising more
  • To stop smoking
  • Cutting back on alcohol.

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