We all like habits and routines. So much so that we often keep doing the same things even when we know they aren't good for us. If you have been diagnosed with high cholesterol, you will need to change your lifestyle. Like any change in lifestyle, it takes a while to learn how to manage cholesterol and change dietary habits. The good news is that there are a number of things you can do to lower your cholesterol, and lifestyle changes are a good place to start. You can reduce your risk for cardiovascular disease by improving your diet, increasing physical activity and maintaining a healthy weight. Changing your lifestyle is easier than it sounds. You just need some good advice and the motivation to change. I am going to help you achieve that healthy cholesterol level, by guiding you into making better food choices.

Increasing dietary fibre has been recommended as a way to lower cholesterol levels.

Dietary fibre is a collective term for a variety of plant substances that are resistant to digestion by human gastrointestinal enzymes. They can be classified into two groups depending on their solubility in water. It has been suggested that soluble fibres such as oats, psyllium, pectin and guar gum lower total and low density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol. The question is by how much?

Soluble fibre reduces total and LDL cholesterol. One gram of soluble fibre (e.g. from one apple) can lower total cholesterol by about 0.045 mmol/L. To put this into perspective, the current recommendation is an average intake of 18 g/day (which includes both soluble and insoluble fibre). This would lower cholesterol by about 0.40 mmol/L (the acceptable cholesterol level is up to 5.2 mmol/L). In isolation this is a small amount, but combined with the benefits of other healthy (cholesterol-lowering) behaviours (e.g. exercising), it would make a worthwhile difference.

Top 5 high fibre foods that can help you to lower your LDL
  1. Oats and Oat bran (rich in beta-glucan, a soluble form of fiber)
  2. Kidney beans and all other legumes
  3. Apples, pears and prunes
  4. Barley (rich in beta-glucan, a soluble form of fiber)
  5. Walnuts

Soluble fiber can reduce the absorption of cholesterol into your bloodstream. Five to 10 grams or more of soluble fiber a day decreases your total and LDL cholesterol. Eating 1 1/2 cups of cooked oats(cooked) provides 6 grams of fiber. If you add fruit, such as bananas, you'll add about 4 more grams of fiber.

Dietary fiber is found exclusively in plant foods. It serves as the structural framework in plants and is one of the most abundant compounds in nature. Fiber is the part of the plant that is not broken down in the intestines by human digestive enzymes. Because it is not digested, fiber is not absorbed in the body. (Bacteria in the intestines can ferment soluble fiber, changing it to short-chain fatty acids that are absorbed, but in general, fiber itself is neither digested nor absorbed).

Fruits, vegetables, whole-grain breads and cereals, nuts, and legumes (such as dried beans, lentils, and peas) are all sources of fiber in the diet. Fiber is beneficial for a number of reasons. It helps improve intestinal health, prevents heart disease and some cancers, reduces blood pressure, regulates blood sugar, and aids in weight control.

Fiber can be either insoluble or soluble, although most fiber-containing foods have both. Insoluble fiber speeds up the movement of food through the intestines and promotes regularity. It is excreted largely intact. Insoluble fiber can be found in whole-grain foods, wheat bran, many vegetables, and fruit with skin. Soluble fiber -- also called viscous fiber -- dissolves when mixed with water and becomes a gel-like substance, slowing down the movement of food through the small intestine. Sources of soluble fiber include oats, peas, beans, apples, and citrus fruits; one serving of any of these foods provides about one to three grams (g) of soluble fiber.

Evidence suggests that soluble fiber is more effective at lowering cholesterol, but both types of fiber are important for your health. One of the ways soluble fiber may lower blood cholesterol is through its ability to reduce the amount of bile reabsorbed in the intestines. It works like this: When fiber interferes with absorption of bile in the intestines, the bile is excreted in the feces. To make up for this loss of bile, the liver makes more bile salts. The body uses cholesterol to make bile salts. So in order to obtain the cholesterol necessary to make more bile salts, the liver increases its production of LDL receptors.

These receptors are responsible for pulling cholesterol out of LDL molecules in the bloodstream. Therefore, the more bile salts are made from the liver, the more LDL cholesterol is pulled from the blood. It is possible that one of the short-chain fatty acids produced by the fermentation of soluble fiber in the large intestines may inhibit the amount of cholesterol produced by the liver.

Evidence suggests that more than 11 g of beta-glucan from oats can lower cholesterol up to 14.5 percent. 3 g of beta-glucan is equivalent to 70g cooked oat bran. A standard portion of cooked oat bran is about 150 g.

Did you know: according to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), foods such as whole oats and barley that contain at least 0.75 g of beta-glucan soluble fiber per serving can state on their label that they may reduce the risk of heart disease, along with a diet low in saturated fat and cholesterol.

Recommendation: Get at least 5 to 10 g of fiber in per day and 10 to 25 g of soluble fiber to lower LDL cholesterol even more. Knowing how to read a label will help you to buy food that is high in fibre. The best way to increase fiber in the diet is to eat more fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and legumes.

Committing to a low-fat lifestyle means making some changes in our kitchens. But what do we mean by a low-fat kitchen? Essentially, we mean replacing high-fat foods with low-fat foods. So yes, those double chocolate-stuffed cookies should be tossed, along with that extra-butter popcorn. But don't despair, there are so many low-fat products available these days, alternatives are pretty easy to find. So what should we choose and what should we lose?

Choose:
  • Oils: Olive oil, canola oil, safflower oil or Spray and Cook
  • Canned Fish: Water-packed tuna, salmon, sardines and Mackrele
  • Canned Tomatoes: Whole, diced or crushed tomatoes, tomato purees, tomato sauces (with no added salt)
  • Legumes and Grains: Canned or dried black beans, pinto beans, chickpeas (Garbanzo beans), kidney beans, navy beans, black-eyed peas; rice, lentils, barley, couscous, quinoa, bulgur, kamut
  • Pasta: Whole wheat spaghetti, penne, lasagna sheets and other noodles
  • Jars: Anchovies, capers, pimientos, peppers, artichokes, pickles, sundried tomatoes, minced garlic
  • Soups and Stocks: Low-fat, low-sodium canned soups and soup mixes; low-sodium, fat-free broths, bouillon cubes and stock concentrates
  • Flavorings: Herbs, spices and seasonings; whole garlic, garlic paste, tomato paste, chili paste, bottled ginger, low-sodium Worcestershire sauce, soy sauces and bottled marinades
  • Dressings: Vinegars, mustards, low-fat or fat-free salad dressings and mayonnaise
  • Breads and Cereals: Whole grain breads, rolls and bagels; whole wheat flour; whole-grain cereals such as oatmeal, bran flakes or low-fat granola
  • Dried Fruits: Cranberries, cherries, blueberries, mango, peach, appricot and raisins
  • Nuts and Seeds: Almonds, hazelnuts, walnuts, peanuts, pecans; pumpkin seeds, sunflower seeds, sesame seeds, poppy seeds, and flax seeds
  • Sugars: Honey, molasses, maple syrup
  • Snacks: Pretzels, low-fat microwave popcorn or plain popcorn, whole grain crackers

This is not an exhaustive list, but it gives us an idea of what kinds of things to stock in a low fat kitchen so that we have nutritious ingredients on hand. Including nuts, seeds, oils and fatty fish in our diet is fine in moderation, as most of the fat from these sources is heart healthy. Be sure, also, to buy plenty of fresh fruit and vegetables, from across the color spectrum.

Lose:
  • Regular mayonnaise and oil-based dressings
  • Shortening, you can use a trans-fat-free version, if available
  • Oil-packed tuna and fish
  • Canned meats
  • Canned Cream soups and tinned vegetables (high in salt)
  • Boxed: Pasta dishes, Macaroni and cheese, Pasta sauces
  • Flavored pasta and rice mixes
  • Refried beans, unless fat free
  • Gravy mixes, cheese sauces, pancake and biscuit mixes
  • Sugary cereals
  • Anything with "partially hydrogenated" on the label (cookies, cakes, donuts, muffins
  • Potato chips, corn chips, unless baked
  • White bread
  • Coffee creamer (Cremora)
Milk:

Many of us have already made the switch from whole milk to some kind of lower-fat milk. But truthfully, drinking 2% milk isn't that much better for us. It still contains 5g of total fat and 3g of saturated fat per one-cup serving. We should really aim for nonfat milk at best, and 1% milk at least. But it doesn't end there. Choose low-fat or nonfat ice creams or yogurts over full fat versions, and do the same for sour cream.

Cheese:

Choose low-fat or fat-free cottage cheese, cream cheese and hard cheeses. True, some hard cheeses don't melt as well in cooking. Part-skim ricotta cheese or mozzarella are good lower-fat substitutes, though there are also fat-free versions. Try stronger cheeses such as Gruyere, Gorgonzola or Parmesan to add maximum flavor per ounce.

Butter and Margarine:

The problem with butter is its high levels of saturated fat and cholesterol; the trouble with margarine (especially stick margarine) is its high levels of trans fats, which arise from the hydrogenation process that converts liquid vegetable oils into solid fat. Tub margarine and liquid spread contain fewer or no trans fats, and some spreads contain special ingredients that actively lower bad cholesterol. These would be better choices.

Eggs:

Yes, they do contain high levels of dietary cholesterol, yet in other ways they pack a heavy nutritional punch, as a great source of vitamins and minerals. But you can always use egg whites or egg substitutes instead, especially if you have to watch your cholesterol. And even if you don't, use whole eggs sparingly.

Meat:

Fresh meat and deli meats should be as lean as possible. Watch out for sodium content in the latter. Substitute turkey or chicken hot dogs for beef ones, and try veggie burgers instead of beef patties. But you're not confined only to chicken. Pork tenderloin is now considered as lean as a skinless chicken breast.

Fish:

Fish--preferably fresh fish rather than high-fat fish sticks--should be consumed at least twice a week. Be sure to include even the fattier variety such as salmon, since they contain high levels of heart-healthy omega-3 fatty acids.

Cholesterol is an important and essential type of fat which we all need to stay healthy. The cholesterol in your body is used to make certain hormones and is an important building block of the cells in your body. Most of the cholesterol you need is produced in your liver and a 1/4 of your body's cholesterol is obtained from your diet.

Too much saturated fat in your diet will lead to a higher production of cholesterol thus increasing the level of cholesterol in your bloodstream. You also need to evaluate your diet to decrease the intake of salt and sugary foods while increasing your daily fiber intake.

Being overweight increases your cholesterol, by losing weight you can help reduce your LDL-cholesterol ('bad' cholesterol) as well as raise your HDL-cholesterol ('good' cholesterol). It's also not healthy to be too thin or to carry too much body fat. The key is to find a sustainable healthy weight. The body mass index (BMI) is a useful tool in determining if you have a weight problem. Remember, no one requires that you give up the foods you love in order to lessen your risk of cardiovascular disease. The idea is that you choose the foods which protect you, on a more regular basis, while trying to cut down on the food which increases your risk.