Watching your cholesterol doesn’t have to go out of the window now that summer’s here. Nutritionist Dr Sarah Schenker gives her tips for summer foods that are delicious and healthy too.
Summer time is party time in the UK as we all flock outdoors to enjoy alfresco living, making the most of the warmer weather and lighter evenings.
But picnics, barbecues, outdoor concerts and sporting events can all come laden with lots of unhealthy food and drink temptations too, including fatty meats, creamy salad dressings and calorie-laden puddings, clotted cream and ice creams.
Unless you are careful, your usual healthy eating habits may fall by the wayside and send your blood cholesterol soaring.
- Seven out of 10 people in the UK currently have cholesterol higher than the levels currently recommended by the government (that’s a total blood cholesterol level of less than 5mmol/L and lower than 3mmol/L for ‘bad’ LDL cholesterol)
- High cholesterol is one of the known risk factors for developing heart disease and a risk factor for strokes, so you need to keep it under control.
- Experts recommend eating less saturated fat which is found in fatty meats like sausages and mince, as well as cutting out processed foods like cakes and biscuits and replacing them with fruit and vegetables.
But don’t despair. You can eat delicious seasonal foods which can lower rather increase your blood cholesterol.
“A number of fruits help lower your blood cholesterol,” explains nutritionist Sarah Schenker: “some of them also have other health benefits for your heart too.”
- Apricots: Nutrients in apricots can help protect the heart as well as providing the cholesterol-lowering effects of fibre. The high beta-carotene content of apricots makes them important heart health foods. Beta-carotene helps protect LDL cholesterol from oxidation, which may help prevent furring up of the arteries.
- Raspberries: These delicious summer berries 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: These 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.
Your vegetable patch can yield some cholesterol-lowering treats too.
- Asparagus: This contains 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. Enjoy it lightly steamed (but don’t smother with butter!).
- Fennel: Fennel is a herb used in cooking; it has 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.
The healthiest cooking oil
- Olives/ olive oils: Although available all year round, new olive oil is produced in the summer. In Italy, the arrival of new oil is celebrated by Le Stagioni dell’Olio or ‘the season of oil’. 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.
Cholesterol-lowering meat alternatives
Try and limit the amount of fatty red meat you eat and think about replacing it with oily fish or pulses.
Healthy choices include:
- Mackerel: This oily fish is in season from June through to October so the summer months are the perfect time to enjoy it fresh. 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: Fresh sprouting lentils appear in the shops in summer. Lentils 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 also 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.
If you have any questions about how to maintain healthy cholesterol levels, then you can ask our panel of experts.
British Heart Foundation