Many of us have either heard of or know someone with high cholesterol. It is a common condition with serious consequences, as it increases our risk of stroke and heart disease.
Since there are no signs or symptoms of high cholesterol, it is important to get tested annually to learn what your cholesterol levels and other health risks may be. While it is recommended to start testing at age 20, depending on your medical history, a doctor may recommend you or your children start testing earlier than that.
People diagnosed with high cholesterol may choose to manage it through medications or lifestyle changes. Making healthy lifestyle changes is always an excellent option, as it is all beneficial with no negative side effects.
Eating a nutritious diet is a critical part of lifestyle change. Plant-based diets in general, particularly those that contain minimally processed foods, if any, has been shown to improve cholesterol levels.
Within a plant-based diet, there are particular foods that have more of a benefit on cholesterol levels than others. Research has shown avocado to be helpful in lowering the “bad” or LDL cholesterol when substituted for other foods high in fat. So instead of using mayo or cheese on your sandwich, add a layer of mashed avocado or use it as a sandwich filling by itself. Avocado also makes a great base ingredient for salad dressings.
ʻOlena (turmeric) is recognized by many cultures for its ability to lower cholesterol. Use it in place of or with ginger when cooking meals. You can also boil ʻolena root in water to make tea.
Limu contains beta-glucans, a type of soluble fiber that not only reduces cholesterol but helps promote good gut health. Besides eating it with poke, limu can also be eaten in stews, soups, salads, or by itself. Shiitake mushrooms and oatmeal have this same type of fiber.
Other local foods known to improve cholesterol levels include kalamungay (moringa), mustard greens, and laupele. Laupele is an edible hibiscus; it’s also known as slippery cabbage and Pacific spinach. Both kalamungay and laupele can be used in dishes as you would spinach or other leafy greens, either raw or cooked. Mustard greens taste best when stir-fried.
Beware of foods that can be considered part of a plant-based diet but raise cholesterol levels.
Coconut and palm oil are high in saturated fats, a type of fat shown to increase LDL cholesterol. These oils are often used in so-called “healthy” dishes and in packaged snack foods. Unfiltered coffee contains oils that stimulate your body to make more cholesterol. Filtered coffee has most of these oils captured in the paper filter when brewing.
Besides eating a healthy diet, exercising regularly and quitting smoking are other excellent lifestyle habits to strive towards. If you are not already active, start by doing any physical activity you enjoy. Gradually increase your time exercising to 30 minutes per day. If cutting back on smoking on your own is challenging, talk to your doctor about other options that might help.