Cardiovascular disease (CVD) is currently the leading cause of death in adults, accounting for 31% of all deaths. Cholesterol is made in the liver and plays essential roles in the body such as the formation of bile acids, steroid hormones and vitamin D. However, too much of anything can be a bad thing and this is no different when it comes to cholesterol. Too high concentrations, known as hypercholesterolemia, is a primary, modifiable risk factor for CVD. Cholesterol concentrations are affected by many factors such as genetics, gender, age, physical activity, stress levels, medications and diet. When looking at cholesterol, it’s useful to look at two of the main subtypes of cholesterol (there are lots but we’ll only be discussing two of the main types):
1. Low density lipoprotein cholesterol known as LDL-C. This is commonly referred to as “bad cholesterol” due to is role in transporting and deposition cholesterol all around the body, including our arteries.
2. High density lipoprotein cholesterol known as HDL-C.This is commonly called “good cholesterol” as it helps bring fat and cholesterol back to the liver where it can be excreted. Both LDL-C and HDL-C play important role in our body.
We need both of them but we run into problems when there is too much LDL-C and too little HDL-C. Our diet, while only one piece in the jigsaw that makes up our cholesterol concentrations, can be a positive or negative. There is not one single dietary component that results in high cholesterol levels but rather a combination of factors which include high trans and saturated fat intakes coupled with low fibre and mono- and polyunsaturated fat intakes.
So what can you do on a daily basis to increase HDL-C and keep LDL-C within healthy ranges?
Eat Your Oats!
Oats contain a type of soluble fibre called beta-glucan. Oat beta-glucan can bind to cholesterol in the body and promote its excretion from the body, promoting lower LDL-C concentrations. Oats have been used for their cholesterol-lowering effects since the 1960s. Since then, lots of studies including meta analyses (this is one large analysis of lots of studies) have confirmed their usefulness. One meta-analysis reported that 3g of oat beta glucan reduced LDL and total cholesterol by 0.25mmol/L and 0.30mmol/L, respectively. A 4.2% reduction in LDL-C when 3.5g of oat beta glucan was consumed daily was reported in another meta-analysis. Another reason to enjoy porridge every day! You can also include oats by blending them into a smoothie or making our favourite porridge bread recipe.