What is Cholesterol?
Cholesterol is a naturally occurring substance made by the liver and required by the body for the proper function of cells, nerves, and hormones. Cholesterol acts as an antioxidant and protects cells from toxins and dehydration. It is a precursor or building material for hormones such as estrogen, progesterone, testosterone, aldosterone and cortisol. Cholesterol is also a component of bile and precursor for vitamin D.
How is Cholesterol Linked to Cardiovascular Disease?
Cholesterol travels in the lipids (fatty acids) of the blood stream. When lipids build up and clump together, plaque forms in the walls of the arteries. Plaque can decrease the flow of blood to vital areas of the body. If plaque continues to build long term, it significantly increases the risk of having a heart attack or stroke.
Help, My Doctor Says I Have High Cholesterol!
Relax and take a deep breath
LDL levels in blood are only about 29% accurate as a predictor of cardiovascular disease (CVD). From a nutritional perspective, LDL is not the only factor; free radicals are the problem, because they have the ability to damage artery walls. Free radicals can be decreased with antioxidants (vitamins A, C, E, zinc and selenium). When blood tests reveal high cholesterol levels, a doctor will often prescribe a statin drug. As a nutritionist, I ask why is the body producing more cholesterol? What is increasing the demand for cholesterol? If your body is low on vitamins, minerals, antioxidants and essential fatty acids, it may begin producing more cholesterol to “pinch hit” as an antioxidant. Cholesterol can only be excreted if there is enough fiber in the diet. A low fiber diet can lead to high cholesterol levels. A diet high in refined sugar, refined carbs, chemical additives and trans fats from processed foods can lead to high cholesterol.
What Do These Numbers Mean?
Doctors often look at total cholesterol and use 5.2 as the cut off, considering anything above 5.2 as high cholesterol. As a nutritionist, I like to examine LDL, HDL and triglycerides separately.
For LDL (“bad” cholesterol), I like to see 4 mmol/L or less.
For HDL (“good” cholesterol), 2 mmol/L or more is fine. There are no negative health effects of slightly higher levels of HDL, so it is important to consider the values individually.
For Triglycerides, the ideal range for someone 10-39 years is less than 1.2 mmol/L and for someone 40+ years, less than 1.7 mmol/L
What Causes High Cholesterol?
Inflammation is the culprit for most diseases, and sugar and refined carbs promote inflammation throughout the body. Sugar and refined carbs are the main cause of high cholesterol. They drive your liver to create more fat in your blood, a process called lipogenesis.
•excess refined carbohydrates (white flour, pasta, processed foods, baked goods)
•excess poor quality fats (hydrogenated oil, margarine, vegetable oil, canola oil)
•deficiencies of antioxidants, vitamins, minerals and essential fatty acids
•low dietary fiber
•need for increased membrane integrity due to:
increased toxins, free radicals (chemicals, pesticides, smoking)
•low thyroid function
•menopause (causes a temporary elevation)
The Good News
“999 out of 1000 people can control their cholesterol level and cardiovascular health by nutritional means alone.” (Udo Erasmus, author of “Fats that Heal, Fats that Kill”)
In 1913, a study was done by feeding rabbits a diet high in cholesterol, then autopsying the rabbits and looking at the damage done to the arteries in the animals. All mainstream approaches to cardiovascular disease have hinged on this flawed study. The last time I checked, the typical diet of a rabbit did not contain any trace amounts of cholesterol and their bodies are not meant to process it. Bottom line: Your body needs healthy fats and is meant to process them, so do not avoid eating good quality fats simply because you have high cholesterol.
•fish – wild caught salmon, tuna, mackerel
•olive oil (use only extra virgin cold pressed organic olive oil in a dark glass bottle to avoid rancidity/free radicals. Buy smaller bottles to ensure freshness)
•garlic & onions (contain sulfur compounds that help lower cholesterol)
•tomato products (lycopene found in tomatoes can help reduce cholesterol, cooked tomatoes contain even more lycopene than raw)
serum level cholesterol can often be brought back into normal levels simply by complete elimination of sugar
•dairy is pro-inflammatory and ideally should be eliminated or at the least greatly reduced
•avoid low fat yogurt as it is high in sugar and additives
•wheat is also pro-inflammatory which increases the need for antioxidants
•reduce carbohydrates to control blood sugar
nothing white, refined or processed
•high fiber diet
those on a high fiber diet tend to have lower serum cholesterol levels than those who consume mostly refined flour and processed foods
dietary fiber promotes the flow of bile (as does our intake of healthy fats such as olive oil, coconut oil, avocado, nuts & seeds) and bile is made from cholesterol
•LOTS of vegetables
•two servings of fruit/day
•alcohol, soda, sugar-sweetened drinks, refined carbs and sugar are the enemy when it comes to cholesterol
A note on eggs: Don’t be afraid to enjoy organic free range eggs. The lecithin found in egg yolks will actually help to dissolve plaque on artery walls. Eggs are one of nature’s most nutrient-dense foods and a relatively inexpensive source of protein. Look for organic, free-range and pasture- raised eggs. These eggs are more nutritious, contain lower amounts of pro-inflammatory omega-6 fatty acids and higher amounts of omega-3, vitamins A and E, and beta-carotene, an antioxidant and precursor to vitamin A production. Pasture-raised eggs are the highest quality because the hens are raised on pastureland instead of in confinement, where they are fed primarily grains. The diet of pasture- raised hens is complemented with worms and bugs, which gives their eggs a higher nutrient profile.
Exercise has been shown to reduce elevated cholesterol levels. Cardio workout of any kind (even walking) for 30 minutes at a time, 3 times per week has significant effects on cholesterol.
Decreasing stress levels also helps to lower cholesterol levels.
This is a delicious, energy boosting salad.
1 can black beans, rinsed and drained
1/2 cup organic corn
2 avocados, diced
1/4 cup diced red onion
1 cup diced tomato
1/4 cup chopped cilantro
1 clove garlic, minced
juice of 1/2 a lime
3 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
1/3 cup olive oil
salt and pepper to taste
Mix beans, corn, avocado, onion, tomato and cilantro in a large bowl. In a small bowl or shaker bottle, mix together the vinegar, olive oil, lime juice and garlic. Drizzle over salad using as much dressing as desired and toss until well combined. Add salt and pepper if desired and serve immediately.
Recipe adapted from complete-health-and-happiness.com
A lot has been written about the many health benefits of starting your day with a glass of warm lemon water. But have you ever considered adding a whole organic lemon to your morning smoothie?
Did you know that lemon peels actually contain about 5 to 10 times more vitamins than lemon juice? They are an excellent source of fiber, potassium, magnesium, calcium, folate, beta carotene and bioflavonoids. Just be sure to purchase organic lemons. Commercially grown lemons are often waxed to protect them from bruising during shipping. Plant, insect, animal or petroleum-based waxes may be used.
Caution: Lemon peels contain a high amount of oxalates which are naturally-occurring substances found in plants, animals, and humans. For the vast majority of individuals, oxalate-containing foods should not be a health concern. However, high concentrations of oxalates can lead to problems associated with crystallization such as kidney or gallbladder stones. Therefore, if you already suffer from these problems, avoid eating lemon peel.
What about the seeds? Trace amounts of salicylic acid (the main ingredient in aspirin) are found in lemon seeds, so eating a few lemon seeds here and there may give you some ache and pain-relieving benefits. Again, just be sure to purchase organic.
4 cups fresh broccoli florets, (about 2 medium heads)
½ cup shredded carrots
¼ cup diced red onion
2 large apples, finely chopped
½ cup pecans, coarsely chopped
½ cup dried unsweetened cranberries
Creamy dressing ingredients:
½ cup mayonnaise
½ cup greek yogurt
2 Tablespoons fresh lemon juice
1 Tablespoon pure maple syrup or raw honey
¼ teaspoon salt
⅛ teaspoon pepper
In a large bowl combine broccoli, carrots, red onion, apples, pecans, and dried cranberries.
To make the dressing: Whisk together mayonnaise, greek yogurt, lemon juice, sugar, salt and pepper.
Add the dressing to the salad and toss to coat. Chill until ready to serve.
Recipe adapted from therecipecritic.com
Photo from The Recipe Critic
1 scoop unflavoured protein powder
½ cup pure pumpkin puree
1 organic egg
½ tsp baking soda
½ cup rolled oats
½ cup almond milk
1 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp ginger
1/4 tsp nutmeg
Coconut oil or organic butter – to heat in pan
Preheat griddle to medium.
Blend all ingredients together in a blender until smooth.
2. Melt a teaspoon or two of coconut oil or butter. When hot, pour or scoop the batter onto the griddle, using approximately 1/3 cup for each pancake. Brown on both sides (about 2-3 minutes per side) and serve hot with maple syrup.
Recipe adapted from Samantha Gladish at www.holisticwellness.ca
Photo credit Samantha Gladish
1 1/3 cup oat flour (grind oats in blender to make flour)
1 tbsp baking powder
1/2 tsp sea salt
1 tsp cinnamon
1 1 /4 unsweetened almond milk
1 large egg
1 tbsp coconut oil, melted
1 tsp pure vanilla extract
1/2 cup blueberries
1. Combine flour, baking powder, salt and cinnamon in large bowl.
2. Whisk milk, egg, oil, and vanilla in a medium bowl. Add banana and mash with ingredients.
3. Pour banana mixture into flour mixture and combine. Add blueberries and stir to combine.
4. Lightly grease a non stick pan with organic butter or coconut oil over medium heat. When pan is hot, use 1/4 cup to pour batter into pan.
5. Cook until bubbles form, then flip and cook on other side until lightly browned.
In place of banana, 1/4 cup of unsweetened applesauce works well.
Replace almond milk with full fat coconut milk for extra fluffy pancakes.
Recipe adapted from Samantha Gladish at www.holisticwellness.ca
Photo credit Samantha Gladish
1 small cooking onion, chopped
1 yellow bell pepper, chopped
1 medium zucchini, chopped
coconut oil or avocado oil
2 teaspoons garam masala
1 teaspoon cumin
1/2 teaspoon turmeric
1 teaspoon sea salt
1 14-ounce can organic chopped tomatoes
1 19-ounce can chickpeas, rinsed and drained
1 400 ml can coconut milk
1. Finely chop onion and bell pepper and cut zucchini into small, bite-size chunks.
2. Heat oil in a large pan (with a lid) over medium heat. Add onion and pepper and cook, stirring for 2-3 minutes until softened. Add zucchini and cook for 1 minute. Stir in garam masala, cumin, turmeric, and salt, and cook for 1 minute.
3. Reduce heat to medium low and stir in tomatoes and chickpeas, and cover. Cook for 5 minutes, stirring about halfway through. Uncover, stir in coconut milk, and reduce heat to low. Cook for 5 more minutes or until your rice or quinoa are ready. It’s perfectly fine to let it simmer longer and let the flavours blend together.
4. Serve over rice or quinoa and enjoy with a side salad.
Recipe adapted from mindbodygreen.com
These pumpkin spice cookies have the texture of a muffin and all the flavour of pumpkin pie. Gluten free, dairy free and refined sugar free, they make a healthy treat for the holidays.
- 1 cup of gluten free flour (I used Better Batter)
- 1.5 cups of gluten free rolled oats (I used Bob Mills)
- 1 teaspoon cinnamon
- 1/2 teaspoon fine sea salt
- 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
- 1/4 teaspoon ginger
- 1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
- 1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
- 1 egg
- 1/3 cup pure maple syrup
- 1/2 cup unsweetened applesauce
- 1/4 cup coconut oil, melted
- 2 tablespoons almond milk
- Preheat oven to 350.
- Mix all the dry ingredients in a large bowl.
- Mix all the wet ingredients into a medium bowl.
- Whisk the wet until well mixed and add wet to dry, being careful not to over mix.
- Spoon onto a parchment paper lined baking sheet.
- Bake for about 15-18 minutes. Makes about 30 cookies.
Butternut squash, with its deep orange coloured flesh and sweet flavour makes a delicious soup. Butternut squash is one of the most concentrated vegetable sources of alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), an omega-3 essential fatty acid that is very good for heart health. It’s also an excellent source of vitamin A and C, making this soup an antioxidant powerhouse!
- 2 tablespoons coconut oil
- 1 small onion, chopped
- 1 clove garlic, minced
- 1 stalk celery, chopped
- 1 medium carrot, chopped
- 2 medium potatoes, cubed
- 1 medium butternut squash – peeled, seeded, and cubed
- 1 (1 Litre) carton organic chicken stock
- salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
- Over medium heat, melt the oil in a large pot. Add the onion, garlic, celery, carrot, potatoes, and squash. Sauté for 5 minutes, or until lightly browned.
- Pour in enough of the chicken stock to cover vegetables. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat to low, cover pot, and simmer for about 40 minutes, or until all the vegetables are tender.
- Transfer the soup to a blender or food processor and blend until smooth. You could also use an immersion blender, but I find that the blender really works well to make it silky smooth.
4. Return to pot, and mix in any remaining stock to attain desired consistency. Season with salt and pepper. Enjoy hot!
My all time favourite blender is the Vitamix. I use it daily. It’s great for making smoothies, blender pancakes and soups. Yes, it’s an investment up front, but it’s a health investment!
In response to: “Mom, I have basketball at 7 a.m. tomorrow.”
Overnight Banana Berry Oats will simplify our morning rush.
2 cups of rolled oats or steel cut oats for a crunchier version
2 cups non-dairy milk (almond, coconut)
1 tablespoon chia seeds
1-2 tablespoons pure maple syrup
2 teaspoons cinnamon
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
Stir all ingredients together and distribute into 3 or 4 jars. (I have hungry teenagers, so I used 3 jars). Cover and refrigerate over night. In the morning, mix in sliced banana, berries and nuts & seeds if desired. If you prefer a hot breakfast, simply add the oatmeal mixture from the jar to a saucepan and warm over medium low heat for about 5 minutes before adding your toppings.