Dietary fibre is a powerful – and massively underrated! – way to help reduce high cholesterol levels. With rates of the dangerous condition spiking, and with it raising our risk for heart disease, here’s why you should be getting your daily fibre.
Cholesterol is made in our liver, and this is where we get the amount that we need for survival. Foods like meat, dairy and poultry then make up the rest of the cholesterol found in our bodies – and, like anything, eating these foods in excess can spell trouble for your cholesterol levels. But it’s not that simple – that’s why we’ll be unpacking a few of the major myths and getting to the bottom of the cholesterol conundrum.
#1: Promotes Removal of LDL Cholesterol
Dietary fibre, especially soluble fibre found in oats, beans, fruits, and vegetables, binds to cholesterol particles, including LDL (low-density lipoprotein) cholesterol. This binding process helps remove LDL cholesterol from the body, preventing it from being absorbed and contributing to the formation of plaque in the arteries.
LDL: This is the “bad” stuff – the cholesterol the doctors warn us about. LDL, also known as low-density lipoprotein, is the type that makes up the bulk of the body’s cholesterol, and high levels of this can increase your risk for stroke and heart disease.
HDL: High-density lipoprotein, otherwise known as “good” cholesterol, absorbs the cholesterol in your body and transports it to your liver. Your liver then does its job and clears it out of the body.
#2: Supports the Production of Short-Chain Fatty Acids
When bacteria in the gut ferment fibre, short-chain fatty acids (SCFAs) are produced. SCFAs, such as acetate, propionate, and butyrate, play a role in cholesterol metabolism. They can inhibit the synthesis of cholesterol in the liver, thereby helping to lower overall cholesterol levels.
#3: Slows Down Digestion and Absorption
Soluble fibre, particularly viscous fibre found in foods like barley, oats, and legumes, forms a gel-like substance when mixed with water. This gel slows down the digestion and absorption of nutrients, including cholesterol. As a result, the body has more time to process and excrete cholesterol, preventing its accumulation in the bloodstream.
#4: Enhances Excretion of Bile Acids
Fibre aids in the excretion of bile acids, which are made from cholesterol in the liver and stored in the gallbladder. Soluble fibre binds to bile acids, facilitating their elimination through the digestive system. To compensate for the loss of bile acids, the liver increases the uptake of LDL cholesterol from the bloodstream, thus reducing overall cholesterol levels.
#5: Regulates Blood Sugar Levels
High blood sugar levels can contribute to the production of triglycerides and lower HDL (high-density lipoprotein) cholesterol. Fibre, particularly soluble fibre, helps regulate blood sugar levels by slowing down the absorption of sugar. By stabilising blood sugar, fibre indirectly supports better cholesterol management.
Incorporating More Fibre into Your Diet
- Whole Grains: Choose whole grains like oats, barley, quinoa, and brown rice.
- Legumes: Beans, lentils, and chickpeas are excellent sources of fibre.
- Fruits: Apples, oranges, berries, and pears are rich in soluble fibre.
- Vegetables: Broccoli, carrots, Brussels sprouts, and sweet potatoes are fibre-packed choices.
- Nuts and Seeds: Almonds, chia seeds, and flaxseeds are good sources of fibre.
Gradually increase your fibre intake to allow your digestive system to adjust – you might traumatise your toilet if you go from zero to 100. Don’t forget to stay hydrated, as fibre absorbs water to create bulk in the digestive tract.
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