How to live longer: The 62p item that reduces harmful cholesterol and heart disease risk

The harsh lesson of life is that you cannot predict nor mitigate every threat that comes along. The current pandemic has illustrated this point to devastating effect. What you can do is greatly reduce the toll these threats present to your life, however.

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This is no small consolation. Heart disease, a major killer both in the UK and worldwide, is largely preventable if you follow a healthy diet.

This is because certain dietary decisions block the mechanisms that give rise to the deadly condition, such as cholesterol – a waxy substance found in your blood.

In this regard, one of the most promising additions is kale, a popular vegetable and a member of the cabbage family.

To understand how kale can reduce cholesterol and your subsequent risk of heart disease, it is important to first understand the role cholesterol plays in the body.

Having too much harmful cholesterol in your blood can clog up your arteries but the substance also brings benefits.

For instance, it is used to make bile acids, which are substances that help the body digest fats.

The liver turns cholesterol into bile acids, which are then released into the digestive system whenever you eat a fatty meal.

When all the fat has been absorbed and the bile acids have served their purpose, they are reabsorbed into the bloodstream and used again.

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Substances called bile acid sequestrants can bind bile acids in the digestive system and prevent them from being reabsorbed – this reduces the total amount of cholesterol in the body.

Kale actually contains bile acid sequestrants, which can lower cholesterol levels. This might lead to a reduced risk of heart disease over time, suggests research published in the journal Food Chemistry.

Bolstering the claim, steaming kale was found to dramatically increase the bile acid binding effect, in another study.

It noted that steamed kale is actually 43 percent as potent as cholestyramine – a cholesterol-lowering drug that functions in a similar way.

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What’s more, one study found that drinking kale juice every day for 12 weeks increased HDL (the “good”) cholesterol by 27 percent and lowered LDL levels by 10 percent, while also improving antioxidant status.

LDL cholesterol, also known as “bad” cholesterol, sticks to the inside of your artery walls.

HDL cholesterol counters this harmful process by picking up LDL cholesterol and transporting it to your liver where it is flushed out.

General dietary principles to lower cholesterol levels and heart disease risk

To maximise the heart-healthy benefits, you should include kale in a low-fat, high-fibre diet, which should include plenty of fresh fruit and vegetables (five portions a day) and whole grains, advises the NHS.

You should also 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
  • Butter
  • Ghee – a type of butter often used in Indian cooking
  • Lard
  • Cream
  • 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
  • Avocados
  • Nuts and seeds
  • Sunflower, rapeseed, olive and vegetable oils

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