Q. “Some food labels claim that the product lowers cholesterol. How can these foods distinguish ‘good’ cholesterol from ‘bad’, and do they lower only the bad variety?”
Agnes, via email
A. Dietitian Brooke Longfield, APD, responds:
“Our blood contains two main types of cholesterol: ‘good’ (high-density lipoprotein, or HDL) cholesterol, which protects the heart, and ‘bad’ (low-density lipoprotein, or LDL) cholesterol, which clogs blood vessels, increasing your risk of heart disease and stroke. The good news? You can lower your levels of bad cholesterol by making a few simple changes to the way you eat.
Look for foods that contain plant sterols. The structure of these compounds is similar to that of cholesterol, so they compete for absorption in the intestine, and the body absorbs less cholesterol as a result.
Studies show that consuming just 2–3g of plant sterols a day can lower both total and bad cholesterol levels by approximately 10 per cent — and has little impact on our levels of good cholesterol.
Small amounts of plant sterols are naturally present in many foods, including fruit and vegies, nuts, and legumes, such as beans and lentils. But to lower your cholesterol, you need to eat plant-sterol-enriched foods. To get the amount you need, add one cup of sterol-enriched milk, a slice of cheese and two teaspoons of margarine, such as Flora Pro-Activ, to your daily diet.