A Different Take on Heart Health and Cholesterol
How fiber can help win the war on cholesterol and improve heart health.
Cholesterol seems to be a battle that we keep losing; despite the near trillions of statins that have been prescribed, along with the usual recommendations of “move more, eat less,” high cholesterol is still quite a gut punch to our overall health.
It’s not for a lack of effort. Some people moved to a cabin in the woods and eat nothing but grass and yet still can’t make a dent in their bloodwork. So what gives?
Well, cholesterol is a confusing concept. I can’t claim to have the answer, nor will I dissect the issue as if I’m a doctor. But I can give you some cool insight on how a bit of fiber can go a long way in keeping your ticker strong. That’s far better advice than “exercise and eat right.”
Now let’s dissect heart health along with giving you some tools to fight back against high cholesterol.
Not So Cut and Dry
There are medical recommendations on where your cholesterol should be, and, of course, they shouldn’t be ignored.
But we know that there are a ton of factors involved in your total numbers. Some scientists believe that the ratio of triglycerides (fat in your blood) to HDL (“good” cholesterol) is more important than your total cholesterol level. But not every doctor agrees on that.
Then, there are the exceptions.
Take Crete, Greece – this area of the world went ten years without a heart attack despite cholesterol levels that would make a doctor gasp in horror.
Of course, medicine is always changing. Look at the classic “good” and “bad” cholesterol we’ve been talking about for 20 years.
Things like LDL and HDL aren’t actually cholesterol. They’re protein wrappers that carry cholesterol in your body. LDL was usually labeled as the “bad” wrapper but now doctors are breaking up your LDL levels into harmless and not good (those aren’t medical terms). If your doctor is kind of up there in age, they may have not even heard of this test.
I know it looks all over the place. That’s because it is. So instead of confusing you more, let’s look at what we do know and what you can control.
What We Do Know
Your liver makes between 1-2 grams of cholesterol a day. Here’s the real kicker: your food intake has little effect on your blood levels. Eat less cholesterol, and your body just makes more.
Levels are largely set by genetics; so if you don’t like what your bloodwork says, you can (sort of) point your finger at your parents.
We also know that carrying large amounts of bodyfat, and spending too much time on the couch, is a big no-no. You’d think that would be a no-brainer, but it’s still important to reinforce.
Here are some things we can control: plant based food helps. No, you don’t need to go full vegan, but getting 75% of your calories from plant food goes a long way to helping your heart. You may first think of just eating lettuce, but remember that nuts, oats, rice, and spices are all plant-based too.
Here’s another tidbit: fiber helps in the war on cholesterol. Here’s how.
Not All Fiber Is Created Equal
Fiber is a broad term – there are a ton of different types.
We’ll focus on a specific type of soluble fiber called psyllium that’s a major player in the heart health game. Here’s how:
Say you eat some peanut butter. Your liver wants to use something called bile to break up the fat in that peanut butter. As you munch down on your jar of Jif, bile keeps being made to break things down.
You know what’s needed to make bile? Cholesterol.
When you consume psyllium, it literally binds to the bile and gets rid of it. So the body needs more bile and has to call on cholesterol reserves. Since you’re being a good fitness enthusiast, you consume lots of psyllium and thus your body is constantly chopping up it’s own cholesterol.
In this case, we’d want supplemental psyllium husk. It’s possible that 5-10mg a day can bring down total cholesterol levels by 10%! This is one of the few times I recommend a specific supplement. You’d have to eat A LOT of fiber based foods to get that much psyllium.
So yes, cholesterol is confusing. But now you have something in your arsenal that clears up that confusion.