‘Naughty but nice’ Christmas foods can help achieve a better balance of cholesterol, expert says

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Finally, there’s good news about many of our favorite Christmas foods. A turkey meal with all – well, most – of the trimmings and a traditional dessert can lower your LDL ‘bad’ cholesterol levels and improve your ratio of HDL good cholesterol, reveals a leading testing expert.

This Christmas, you can eat one of your favorite meals without worrying about your cholesterol levels, says a leading blood testing expert. Some of our favorite ‘naughty but nice’ Christmas foods, from turkey or salmon to some (albeit fortified) dairy products, can actually help achieve a better balance of cholesterol. Even the traditional nuts and sultanas at the bottom of our Christmas stockings turn out to be great at raising our HDL ‘good’ cholesterol and lowering our LDL ‘bad’ cholesterol.

Dr Avinash Hari Narayanan (MBChB), Clinical Lead at London Medical Laboratory, says: ‘Many people still think of all cholesterol as harmful. However, it’s only LDL (low-density lipoprotein) cholesterol, often known as “bad” cholesterol, that does the damage. LDL transports cholesterol to your arteries. It can lead to a build-up of plaque, resulting in poor blood flow. In general, the higher your LDL cholesterol levels, the higher your risk for coronary heart disease.

‘On the other hand, high-density lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol can be called ‘good’ cholesterol.  Think of HDL as a vacuum cleaner for cholesterol. When HDL is at healthy levels in your blood it removes extra cholesterol and plaque build-up in your arteries and then sends it to your liver. Your liver then expels it from your body. This helps reduce your risk of heart disease, heart attack and stroke.

‘There are plenty of foods popular during the festive season that can help lower your LDL levels, which improves your HDL to LDL ratio. The great news is that this includes that perennial Christmas favorite, turkey, along with several other festive meats such as chicken breast.

‘That’s because research shows that fatty fish, chicken breast and turkey are good natural sources of niacin. Niacin is also known as vitamin B3. It can help lower cholesterol and other fats in your blood. Niacin helps raise HDL good cholesterol, lower LDL cholesterol and also lowers another type of fat in your body called “triglycerides”.

‘That’s the meat taken care of for your Christmas meal – what about the veg? A 2016 study published in the journal Nutrients showed that an antioxidant-rich diet raised ‘good’ cholesterol HDL levels in relation to triglycerides. Antioxidants can also help you stay healthy by preventing cell damage in the body. High antioxidant foods include beets, purple cabbage, kale and spinach. But what about that Christmas staple, Brussels sprouts? Brussels sprouts rank high in antioxidants, just after kale and spinach. Just a half-cup of cooked Brussels sprouts will also give you almost half of your daily recommended amount of vitamin C.

‘No Christmas meal would be complete without roast potatoes. The good news is that the spud has zero fat and cholesterol and it's low in sodium. It’s also rich in antioxidants and vitamins that help our body function properly.

‘To be sure, roasting isn’t the healthiest way to prepare potatoes, especially if you are using lard or goose fat. However, using unsaturated cooking oils such as olive oil is more heart-healthy. So too are low fat sunflower cooking sprays and rapeseed oil. Rapeseed oil is particularly high in sterols. Sterols and stanols are plant chemicals of a similar size and shape to cholesterol. They are absorbed into the blood stream and actually stop some cholesterol from being absorbed, lowering the cholesterol in your blood. While we do get a small amount of sterols from plant-based foods such as vegetable oils, it’s really not enough to make a great difference, so food companies have developed products with plant sterols or stanols added to them. These fortified foods include some fat spreads such as the brand ProActiv.

‘What about dessert? Can mince pies and yule logs also help reduce LDL “bad” cholesterol? Unfortunately, no. But the good news is that traditional winter favorites such as baked apples or pears help lower overall cholesterol levels.  Berries, another popular sweet treat, are also high in antioxidants.

‘Sadly, you may not be able to enjoy them with cream. Alongside full-fat milk, cheese and yoghurt, it contains unhealthy saturated fat. However, there are now companies producing milks and yoghurts containing sterols and stanols. Benecol, for example, offers a range of products. These fortified foods can help you reach the amount of sterols and stanols needed to help lower your cholesterol, says the British Dietetic Association.

‘If people are concerned about their cholesterol levels as we approach Christmas, it’s best to get them checked. With GP surgeries extremely busy at this time of year, it’s important to recognize that there are alternatives. London Medical Laboratory’s revolutionary and convenient home finger-prick Cholesterol Profile test measures total cholesterol, LDL “bad” cholesterol, HDL “good” cholesterol, non-HDL (a newly adopted, more accurate, measure) and other key markers. It can be taken at home through the post, or at one of the many drop-in clinics that offer these tests across London and nationwide in over 120 selected pharmacies and health stores.

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