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Cholesterol busting summer foods

Keeping an eye on our cholesterol is still something we should be doing even in the midst of a pandemic.

It’s all too easy to lose sight of how much fatty meat we are eating during the light summer evenings and seemingly endless barbeques. So unless we are careful, sausages and burgers, along with creamy salad dressings and calorie-laden puddings could send our blood cholesterol soaring.

The good news is it with just a few tweaks, we can sail through summer eating seasonal foods that are delicious and healthy too. Nutritionist Dr Sarah Schenker shares her tips here.

High cholesterol facts

High cholesterol currently affects 7 out of 10 people in the UK and is one of the known risk factors for developing heart disease and a risk factor for strokes.

In order to keep our cholesterol under the government recommended levels (a total blood cholesterol level of less than 5mmol/L and lower than 3mmol/L for ‘bad’ LDL cholesterol) then experts recommend eating less saturated fat and more fruit and vegetables.

Saturated fat is found in fatty meats like sausages and mince and processed foods like cakes and biscuits.

However, it’s not all as bad as it seems. “There are delicious seasonal foods which can lower rather than increase your blood cholesterol,” explains Dr Schenker, “some of which also have other health benefits for your heart.”

Summer fruits which can help lower cholesterol

Apricots can help protect the heart as well as providing the cholesterol-lowering effects of fibre. Their high beta-carotene content makes them important heart health foods. Beta-carotene helps protect LDL cholesterol from oxidation, which may help prevent furring up of the arteries.

Raspberries are an excellent source of cholesterol-lowering fibre and the antioxidant nutrients manganese and vitamin C. They also contain vitamin B2, folate, niacin, magnesium, potassium and copper. In addition, they contain significant amounts of the anti-cancer phytochemical ellagic acid.

Avocados have a high content of mono-unsaturated fatty acids; they are also a good source of the antioxidant vitamins E and C, which can prevent the furring up of arteries, as well as potassium, which helps to control blood pressure, both of which are crucial to maintaining a healthy heart. Avocados make a great snack between meals as they do not interfere with blood sugar levels – but weight watchers beware, avocados are high in calories at 400 kcal each.

Summer vegetables which can help lower cholesterol

Asparagus contain compounds called saponins, which have repeatedly been shown to have anti-inflammatory and anti-cancer properties.  Their intake has also been associated with improved blood pressure, improved blood sugar regulation and better control of blood cholesterol levels.

Fennel is a herb with an aniseed taste and is great for flavouring fish. An excellent source of vitamin C, it is also a very good source of dietary fibre, which can help to reduce elevated cholesterol levels, as well as other nutrients needed for heart health including potassium, manganese and folate. In addition, fennel is a good source of niacin, phosphorus, calcium, magnesium, iron and copper.

Healthy oil

Olive oil – although available all year round, new olive oil is produced in the summer. Olive oil has a high content of mono-unsaturated fatty acids which are known to lower ‘bad’ LDL cholesterol levels without lowering ‘good’ HDL cholesterol.

Alternatives to meat

Try and limit the amount of fatty red meat you eat and think about replacing it with oily fish or pulses.

You could try:

Mackerel – in season from June through to October is the perfect cholesterol busting fish. Mackerel is the richest source of the long-chain omega-3 fats that are so important for good heart health. Studies have shown that these fats can lower LDL or ‘bad’ cholesterol in the blood as well as help to make the blood thinner and less prone to clotting.

Lentils – in particular, fresh sprouting lentils appear in the shops in summer and are a great source of cholesterol-lowering fibre. Not only do lentils help lower cholesterol, they are of special benefit in managing blood-sugar disorders since their high fibre content prevents blood sugar levels from rising rapidly after a meal. Lentils provide good-to-excellent amounts of important minerals, B-vitamins and protein – all with virtually no fat. This makes them low in calories too, just 230 kcals for a whole cup of cooked lentils.

Read more here on ways to eat less meat.

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