High cholesterol means you have too much of a fatty substance called cholesterol in your blood. It is important to make a distinction between the different types of cholesterol because they are not all inherently bad. Having too much of a particular type of cholesterol can spell serious problems.
The two main types of cholesterol found in your blood are LDL cholesterol and HDL cholesterol.
The former is branded the ‘bad’ cholesterol because it sticks to the inside of your artery walls and causes a build-up.
Eventually, this build-up can narrow your blood vessels, and, if they come blocked, it can cause a heart attack.
HDL cholesterol is known as the ‘good’ cholesterol because it counters this harmful process.
It picks up LDL cholesterol and transports it to your liver where it is flushed out; thereby reducing your risk of heart disease.
The key to staving off the risk of heart disease therefore lies in lowering LDL levels while raising HDL levels.
Certain dietary items have proven to be particularly effective at decreasing LDL cholesterol.
An analysis of 25 studies found snacking on nuts performed this vital function.
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In the study, published in JAMA, eating two to three servings of nuts per day decreased LDL cholesterol by an average of 10.2 mg/dl.
The cholesterol-lowering effect is partly attributed to the phytosterols found in nuts.
These plant compounds are structurally similar to cholesterol and help lower cholesterol by blocking its absorption in your intestines.
What is the best nut for the job?
A number of nuts have been linked to improved cholesterol levels but almonds have been singled out.
A number of small studies have found that eating an almond-rich diet can reduce LDL cholesterol, total cholesterol and oxidised LDL cholesterol, which is particularly harmful to heart health.
General dietary tips
Nuts are a staple of the Mediterranean diet – a heart-healthy diet that has been shown to tackle cholesterol and other heart disease markers.
The Mediterranean diet is high in vegetables, fruits, legumes, nuts, beans, cereals, grains, fish and unsaturated fats such as olive oil.
It also usually includes a low intake of meat and dairy foods.
As cholesterol charity Heart UK explains, it’s rich in monounsaturated fats, which are good for the heart, such as olive oil and nuts.
It’s also a good source of omega 3 fatty acids from seafood, especially oily fish which are good for your heart health too, notes the health body.
You should compliment a healthy dietary plan with regular exercise to keep your cholesterol in check.
The NHS says to aim for at least 150 minutes (2.5 hours) of exercise a week.
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