Many people are now into understanding cholesterol; is it good or bad? How do I lower it if it’s high? Shall I eat eggs everyday or that’s too much? And the list goes on. I believe this hype goes to the rise of the ketogenic diet. We were taught that a low fat diet is the way to go, but recent research has been showing otherwise.
This craze for lowering cholesterol has led to a fiasco of pharmaceuticals coming up with different meds to treat it. Statin (The “super” cholesterol drug) is now the number one selling class of drugs, which in fact has a bad influence on insulin and can lead to Insulin resistance and metabolic syndrome. I can assure you that diet can lower cholesterol as much as statins; a surprise too many but common in my practice as a nutritionist. Using a comprehensive approach of diet and lifestyle or behavioral change has outstanding effects that are more powerful than any medication, and most importantly are sustainable.
The good news is even if you are already suffering from a metabolic syndrome and heart problems does not mean this is your destiny or you are doomed. High cholesterol levels and pre-diabetes can inevitably be reversed and treated with making just a few simple swaps in your daily routine.
So before we delve into symptoms and solutions; let’s explain briefly what is cholesterol. Cholesterol is a soft, waxy substance that your body needs to function and manage hormones, synthesize vitamin D and basic support to our cell membranes. Now the real problem lays in having too much cholesterol where it can build up in the blood vessels, which slowly will hinder and slow down blood flow in the body and hence heart problems and diabetes.
The two main types of cholesterol are classified as low-density lipoprotein (LDL) and high-density lipoprotein (HDL). LDL (bad cholesterol) makes up the majority of cholesterol in your body. This type of builds up little armies of wax deposits in the arteries, which is why high LDL can be a cause of heart problems. HDL (good cholesterol), helps shuttle cholesterol out of the bloodstream and into the liver to keep the blood and vessels clean. Its very important to keep your HDL in check because it is your shield; if you have high-ish LDL and still manage to maintain a high HDL, then you are protected from fat deposits accumulation in your arteries more so than if you had a low HDL.
Symptoms of high cholesterol
If you want to know what are the symptoms of having high cholesterol levels in your body, I would say start with checking for metabolic syndrome with the following:
- Do you have a big belly or a large waist? Measure your waist at the belly button and your hips at the widest point; if your waist/hip is greater than 0.8 (women) 0.9 (men); that could be an indication of a metabolic syndrome (do not stress too much on these numbers your could have wide hips, unless you have a clear and visible big belly I wouldn’t worry that much)
- If you have small LDL and HDL particles, you have metabolic syndrome (this requires a specific blood test: lipoprotein electrophoresis, ApoB, Lipoprotein (a) are available in Jordan)
- If the ratio of triglycerides to HDL is greater than 4 (that happens if your triglycerides are above 100 and your HDL is below 50), that’s another indication of a metabolic syndrome.
- Fasting insulin and insulin resistance (HOMA-IR) numbers need to be in check. I prefer HOMA-IR score to be below 1; this would mean that you are insulin sensitive which is optimal. If you are above 1.8 that is early pre diabetes.
- Check your HBA1c (measurement of blood sugar over the last 90 days); If it is greater than 5.5, you may have metabolic syndrome.
Times have changed, what we used to get away with before is not how life goes today. Nutrition, exercise, and stress management can no longer be considered alternative medicine; they are essential medicine. This lifestyle change will certainly restore normal cell function in individuals. Risk factors and symptoms start diminishing slowly. While a conventional approach will mask the root cause of the disease; medication will only wipe away the clear and visible symptoms.
Eat a healthy diet with a low glycemic load, high in fiber, and enough phytonutrients, chlorophyll and omega-3s. Base your diet on plants, and of course consume plenty of good quality protein such as beans, nuts, seeds, and lean animal protein (ideally organic or grass fed). Exercise and good sleep are also as important for balancing blood sugar and overall health.
You need to be aware of bad fats and avoid them; such as trans fat and saturated fats that come from some tropical oils like palm oil. Trans fats are typically found in margarines, baked goods or anything containing “partially hydrogenated vegetable oil.” Also, try to increase your fiber intake, soluble fiber lowers the absorption of cholesterol in the intestines. You need to aim for at least 30g of soluble fiber a day.
I am a big fan of supplements when needed. You need to supplement properly to have a balanced intake of micronutrients that you can easily miss from your diet. If you have a metabolic syndrome or prone to developing it, I would recommend finding a good multivitamin that has chromium and biotin which are very important for managing insulin and a healthy metabolism. I am a big fan of krill oil; which provides you with easily absorbed omega 3 fats (EPA/DHA). You may also want to consider consider niacin or vitamin B3 and vitamin D3 (please get your blood tests prior and consult your GP). It is useful to help raise HDL and lower LDL cholesterol and triglycerides.
Zein Nimri is an AFPA certified sports nutritionist, NESTA kids nutritionist, long distance runner, cyclist and traveller with big dreams. Follow her on Instagram @Zeinutritionist she is currently an Eating Disorder Recovery Coach.