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Ms Apple Chan Li Ping, Dietitian, Department of Dietetics, Singapore General Hospital (SGH), a member of the SingHealth​ group, explains the ways to improve your cholesterol levels through your diet.​

1. Cut back on cholesterol-rich foods, saturated fats and trans fats.

Cholesterol is found in foods of animal origin such as meat and poultry. The following foods are especially rich in cholesterol: organs/offal, egg yolks and shellfish.

Saturated fats can​ be found in foods like full cream versions of dairy products, butter, coconut milk/oil, palm oil, poultry skin and animal fats like ghee and lard. This group of fats can increase the levels of LDL-cholesterol in our body.

Trans fats present in store-bought cookies, cakes, doughnuts, crackers, margarine, shortening and fried foods also raise LDL-cholesterol levels. Fast food chains often use hydrogenated oils that contain trans fats.

2. Opt for ‘healthier’ fats and oils instead.

‘Good’ fats generally refer to monounsaturated fats, polyunsaturated fats and omega-3 fats. These are considered ‘good’ because they seem to lower LDL-cholesterol levels. However, you need to stay mindful of the calories. Too much fat, even good fat, will still provide excess calories!

Sources of monounsaturated fat include some vegetable oils such as olive oil, canola oil, nuts like almonds and cashews, and avocados. Polyunsaturated fats can be found in vegetable oils like soybean oil, sunflower oil and corn oil. They are also present in walnuts and sunflower seeds. Omega-3 fats can be found in salmon, sardines and mackerel. Some food products like bread and eggs are enriched or fortified with omega-3 as well.

3. Increase your consumption of fibre-rich foods.

You can improve your cholesterol profile by having a balanced diet that includes adequate amounts of dietary fibre. There are namely two types of fibre, soluble and insoluble. The Health Promotion Board (HPB) Singapore recommends a daily intake of 20g a day of dietary fibre for women and 26g a day for men. “Fibre, particularly the soluble one, is beneficial because it binds excess cholesterol and eliminates it from the body through waste,” says Ms Chan.

Both soluble and insoluble fibre can be found in grains, lentils, legumes, fruits and vegetables. Examples of sources of fibre are oats, brown rice, kidney beans, peas, apples, bananas and spinach. A good way of including more fibre in your diet is to have the whole fruit with the skin on, such as apples and grapes.

4. Consider including some foods fortified with sterols and stanols.

Stanols and sterols are plant compounds found naturally in some vegetable oils, nuts, grains, legumes, fruits and vegetables. They can help lower LDL-cholesterol levels by interfering with cholesterol absorption in the body. Currently, stanols and sterols can be found in some fortified food products such as milk and margarine in Singapore.

Additional tips on managing cholesterol

As with all foods, moderation is important when it comes to the consumption of cholesterol-lowering foods, particularly vegetable oils, nuts and seeds. Although healthy, such foods can be high in calories, as they contain fats.

To reduce calorie intake, use healthier cooking methods such as baking and grilling instead of deep-frying. Alternatively, try to opt for lower fat versions of foods like yogurt, milk and cheese.

“To keep your cholesterol levels within normal range, you also need to include some physical activity and maintain a healthy weight,” says Ms Chan. “Exercise has been found to raise the level of good HDL-cholesterol.”​​

See page 1 to learn about the differences between good cholesterol (HDL) and bad cholester​ol (LDL).

Ref:​​ S13