Cholesterol carries many negative connotations but the waxy substance found in your blood is not all bad. Indeed, you need a certain amount of cholesterol to function properly. Among other things, it helps digest fat and produce vitamin D and hormones such as testosterone and oestrogen.
The types of cholesterol that pose health risks are LDL cholesterol and non-HDL cholesterol.
LDL cholesterol is branded the “bad” cholesterol because having too much of it can clog your arteries and restrict blood flow.
This can eventually cause a heart attack so the key is to keep your LDL levels as low as possible.
Non-HDL cholesterol is a general measure of all the bad types of cholesterol found in your blood.
Evidence has singled out certain items for their ability to lower both LDL cholesterol and non-HDL cholesterol.
One of the most promising discoveries is the role barley or foods containing the popular grain plays in lowering these bad types of cholesterol.
According to a research review published in The European Journal of Clinical Nutrition, barley reduced both LDL and non-HDL by seven per cent.
The findings are the result of review of 14 studies on clinical trials conducted in seven countries, including Canada.
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The review also suggested that barley had similar cholesterol-lowering effects as oats, which is often the go-to grain for health benefits.
“The findings are most important for populations at high risk for cardiovascular disease, such as Type 2 diabetics, who have normal levels of LDL cholesterol, but elevated levels of non-HDL or apo B,” said Dr Vladimir Vuksan, research scientist and associate director of the Risk Factor Modification Centre of St. Michael’s.
He continued: “Barley has a lowering effect on the total bad cholesterol in these high-risk individuals, but can also benefit people without high cholesterol.”
Despite its benefits Dr Vuksan said barley is not as well-established as some other health-recommended foods, such as oats.
According to Vuksan, barley can be enjoyed in a variety of ways; he recommends trying to incorporate barley into existing recipes, using it as a substitute for rice or even on its own – just like oatmeal.
General tips for lowering high cholesterol
To reduce your cholesterol, try to cut down on fatty food, especially food that contains a type of fat called saturated fat.
“You should avoid food containing saturated fats, because these will increase the levels of bad cholesterol in your blood,” warns the NHS.
Foods high in saturated fat include:
- Meat pies
- Sausages and fatty cuts of meat
- Ghee – a type of butter often used in Indian cooking
- Hard cheese
- Cakes and biscuits
- Foods that contain coconut or palm oil.
“However, a balanced diet should still include unsaturated fats, which have been shown to increase levels of good cholesterol and help reduce any blockage in your arteries,” notes the NHS.
Foods high in unsaturated fat include:
- Oily fish
- Nuts and seeds
- Sunflower, rapeseed, olive and vegetable oils.
Many of these foods can be found in a Mediterranean-style diet, which is high in vegetables, fruits, legumes, nuts, beans, cereals, grains, fish and unsaturated fats such as olive oil.
It usually includes a low intake of meat and dairy foods.
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