According to Heart Foundation Australia, coronary heart disease (CHD) affects around 1.4 million Australians, and is Australia’s leading single cause of death. On average, one Australian dies as a result of CHD every 24 minutes.

In the last 10-15 years cholesterol has become a household word, and high cholesterol is now a universally accepted warning sign for heart disease by medical professionals. However not all people with high cholesterol levels get heart disease, and not all people who get heart disease have high cholesterol.

Other risk factors for heart disease include smoking, high blood pressure, chronic inflammation, obesity, and physical inactivity.

Frequently asked questions:

Where does cholesterol come from?

There are 2 sources of cholesterol, the cholesterol you make and the cholesterol you eat. The body produces about 75% of cholesterol, mostly in the liver. The rest comes from animal-based food, including meat, poultry, fish, and dairy products. Plant food contains no cholesterol.

Is it all bad?

No. Cholesterol is needed to make steroid hormones such as oestrogen, testosterone and the stress hormone cortisol. It’s needed to make bile salts, a necessary component for digestion of fats, and it allows liquids and gases to go in and out of a cell’s membrane. It also helps make vitamin D.

Can I eat eggs?

Yes you can. Eggs are very nutritious. They contain good quality protein, and lots of
 vitamins and minerals. According to the Heart Foundation of Australia, the dietary cholesterol in eggs has only a small insignificant effect on blood LDL cholesterol, and you can enjoy up to six eggs each week as part of a healthy balanced diet.

How do I lower my cholesterol naturally and reduce my risk of heart disease?

Following a heart-healthy diet and lifestyle can help lower the risk of developing heart disease while lowering your cholesterol.

Diet, exercise, and weight management should form the cornerstone of any heart disease prevention and treatment program. If you’re overweight, one of the most important things you can do to reduce your risk of heart disease is to lose weight.

Three Principles of a Heart-Healthy Diet

By observing what traditional cultures that were free of heart disease ate, and matching that with what modern scientific evidence tells us, we can establish three principles of a heart-healthy diet:

  1. Eat nutrient-dense whole foods This includes grass-fed animal protein, traditional fats, non-starchy vegetables, fruit, nuts, and seeds. These are rich in vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, and other micronutrients that protect against heart disease, and they also help regulate weight because we don’t need to eat as much of them to meet our nutritional needs and feel satisfied.
  2. Avoid processed and refined foods – Processed and refined foods, on the other hand, have no place in a heart healthy diet. Processed foods are often high in sugar and artificial ingredients, and low in or even completely devoid of beneficial nutrients. This is especially true for processed and refined carbohydrates like flour and sugar. In addition to other harmful effects, they tend to promote weight gain and metabolic problems, both of which increase the risk of heart disease.
  3. Eat a healthy balance of traditional fats – these include coconut oil, olive oil, omega-3 fats from cold-water fatty fish and animals that are grass-fed, as well as olives, avocados, nuts, and seeds. On the other hand, industrially processed seed oils like soybean, sunflower, safflower, and corn oils are very high in linoleic acid, which have pro inflammatory effects and may increase the risk of heart disease.

Specific foods

  1. 1.    Cold-Water Fish and Shellfish excellent sources of omega-3 fats, which are known to reduce inflammation. Several studies suggest that consuming adequate amounts of these fats is crucial to cardiovascular health.

Not all fish are created equal. The fish that are highest in omega-3 fats are cold-water fatty fish like salmon, mackerel, herring, sardines, anchovies, and bass, as well as shellfish like oysters and mussels.

Another source of EPA and DHA, the long-chain omega-3 fats, is grass-fed dairy and meat, but the amounts are minimal in comparison to cold-water fatty fish. It’s important to note that conventionally raised grain-fed meat is about three times lower in omega-3 fats than grass-fed beef.

  1. 2.    Olives, olive oil, macadamia nuts, and avocados

They contain monounsaturated fats that have been shown to reduce LDL and triglycerides and increase HDL. They also decrease inflammation, lower blood pressure, and they may reduce the incidence of heart disease.

  1. 3.    Fruit and vegetables

The Australian dietary guidelines (2013) recommend 5 vegetables and 2 fruit a day. They are rich in antioxidants, which protects us from heart disease, as well as being high in soluble fibre.

A good rule of thumb is to choose a variety of colours – green, orange, red, yellow, purple and white.

  1. 4.    Nuts

Some studies have shown that nut consumption may reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease. Tree nuts, which include almonds, Brazil nuts, cashews, chestnuts, hazelnuts, macadamia nuts, coconut, pecans, pine nuts, pistachios, and walnuts, appear to be particularly beneficial.

  1. 5.    Fermented Foods

Fermented foods may also have a beneficial effect on cardiovascular health. They contain probiotics, which consist of various strains of beneficial bacteria known to have health benefits. Fermented foods like sauerkraut, kimchi, yogurt, and kefir are all rich in probiotic bacteria and should be included as part of a heart-healthy diet.

  1. 6.    Soluble Fibre

There are two different types of fibre: insoluble and soluble. Insoluble fibre is found primarily in grains and in some fruits and vegetables, while soluble fibre is found in fruits, vegetables, and some grains.

Soluble fibre promotes easier bowel movements and help excretes cholesterol out of your body, as well as increases satiety

Reducing Blood Pressure Naturally

This is very important because a lot of research suggests that hypertension is one of the most significant risk factors for heart disease. Studies show a strong correlation between potassium intake and blood pressure. Food sources of potassium include root vegetables, chard, spinach, beets, and mushrooms, and fruits like banana, papaya, avocado, and tomato. .

In addition to increasing the potassium content of the diet, there are a few other natural approaches you can take to lower your blood pressure. The first is to lose weight. The second is exercise. Regular exercise decreases blood pressure and pulse rate in previously unfit people with hypertension.  Improving the quantity and quality of sleep can also help. Short sleep duration and sleep apnea are both associated with high blood pressure, obesity, and other metabolic problems.

Mediterranean Diet

While there is certainly more than one dietary approach that can prevent and treat heart disease, the traditional diet of the Mediterranean culture has received attention due to increasing scientific evidence demonstrating its protective benefits in reducing overall mortality and CHD events. It is based on the early dietary pattern of populations in Spain, Greece, and southern Italy.

Olive oil forms an important foundation on which the Mediterranean diet is based.

In addition, the diet emphasizes eating primarily plant-based foods, such as fruits and vegetables, whole grains, legumes and nuts, daily consumption of low fat cheese and yogurt, moderate weekly consumption of fish, poultry, potatoes and eggs, and low monthly consumption of red meat.

The largest randomized trial to date of more than 7400 individuals concluded that a Mediterranean diet with extra servings of olive oil or mixed nuts reduced the risk of a first heart attack, stroke and death by almost 30 per cent in less than five years.

Article contributor – Dana Cohen (Medical Nutritionist)

Dana tailor’s individual diet and supplement programs for people concerned about high cholesterol.