Does diet affect cholesterol?

In a recent BBC documentary, Michael Mosley went on a mission to find out how effective dietary changes could be in reducing cholesterol balance, trying to answer the regularly asked question, does diet affect cholesterol?

For many people, statins are the last resort and I often see people in my clinic who are looking for an alternative. Indeed, GPs will often ask their patients to make changes to their diet and lifestyle for 6-12 weeks and then re-test cholesterol before prescribing statins.

There are two different ways cholesterol is carried, known as LDL and HDL cholesterol.

The LDL (low density lipoprotein) is the type that is carried form the liver into the bloodstream and the HDL takes cholesterol back to the liver and away from our arteries. Ideally levels should be:

LDL – less than 3 mmol/l

HDL – more than 1 mmol/l

total cholesterol – less than 5 mmol/l

A small trial

In the BBC trial, Kings’ College London took a group of 42 people and divided them into 3 groups:

Group 1 – ate a traditional ‘cholesterol-lowering’ diet, low in animal fats, no eggs, bacon, sausages, etc.

Group 2 – added 75g oats (about 3 servings) to their usual diet

Group 3 – added 60g almonds (about 2 handfuls)  to their usual diet

The advice was based on the Portfolio Diet which incorporates a variety of foods thought to reduce cholesterol levels.

 

The results of this trial found that those eating almonds had a mixed result – with one person reducing their cholesterol by 18%, while another person’s cholesterol actually increased.

Porridge eaters found a 10% reduction in total cholesterol and the low fat diet group had a 13% reduction.

But… Michael Mosley did even better – he combined all 3 ideas, so he reduced his intake of saturated fat a bit, ate almonds and ate more oats. His results showed a 42% reduction in cholesterol levels, which just goes to show that there is no such thing as a magic bullet and different diets work for different people.

 

Here’s the Vital Nutrition checklist for simple ways to keep on top of your cholesterol:

  • eat a handful of nuts and seeds every day (preferably almonds, walnuts and flaxseed)
  • sprinkle some lecithin granules onto your breakfast
  • eat oats every day – porridge, homemade muesli or oatcakes
  • eat oily fish 3 x week (salmon, mackerel, herring, trout or sardines)
  • eat pulses at least 3-4 x week. Try bean salads, chickpea curry, lentil soups or houmous.
  • up your intake of onions, garlic and leeks
  • replace bread with rye bread or oatcakes
  • eat at least 5 portions of fruit and veg every day
  • manage stress and stay calm
  • exercise regularly

I sometimes recommend a cholesterol lowering supplement to help give people a step up when trying to reduce cholesterol, (but these are not suitable if you are already on medication).

PLEASE CHECK WITH YOUR GP IF YOU ARE TAKING ANY MEDICATION.