This fantastic article was written by Sarah Biren, a baker, cook, author, and blogger living in Toronto. We encourage you to check out her website here!
High cholesterol is rising as a worldwide health issue. In the U.S. alone, about 73.5 million adults have low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol. That is a whopping 31.7 percent of the population.
Unfortunately, less than 1 out of 3 of these adults (29.5%) have their condition under control. These people with high cholesterol levels have a doubled risk of developing heart disease as opposed to those with ideal levels. (1)
What Is High Cholesterol?
Though the term ‘cholesterol’ is generally spoken about derogatorily, it is actually crucial for the body to produce hormones, vitamin D and to digest food. Cholesterol travels through the bloodstream in small packets called low-density lipoproteins (LDL) and high-density lipoproteins (HDL). You need both types of lipoproteins to maintain good health. (2)
Many people are unaware when their cholesterol levels are too high because it usually bears no signs or symptoms. In the meantime, plaque can begin to form in the arteries.
Plaque development begins when LDL move through a breakage in the endothelial layer in the arteries and become oxidized LDL by free radicals. HDL are not oxidized and actually helpful for limiting the inflammatory process. (3)
Why Is High Cholesterol Damaging?
People with high LDL cholesterol levels are at a greater risk of developing coronary heart disease than those with normal levels. However, more HDL cholesterol in the blood, the chance of getting heart disease is lowered. Contrarily, a high level of LDL and a lower level of HDL indicate a higher probability of developing plaque.
Coronary heart disease is a condition where plaque builds up inside the arteries. This plaque is created from cholesterol, fat, calcium and other debris found in the blood. Plaque can harden over time and narrow the coronary arteries thus limiting the flow of oxygen-filled blood to the heart.
Eventually, the area of plaque can rupture, causing a blot clot to form. If the clot is large enough or the plaque continues to build up, it can completely block blood flow through the artery, causing angina or heart attack.
Angina is chest pain or discomfort that simulates pressure or squeezing in the chest or shoulders, arms, jaw, or back. Plaque can also build up in other arteries in the body, such as the brain or limbs. This can lead to carotid artery disease, stroke, peripheral artery disease, or a stroke. (4)
What Causes Plaque Build Up?
Plaque and its complications occur when free radicals build up in the body from outside factors such as:
- Overexposure to X-rays
- Cigarette smoking
- Air pollutants. (5)
The free radicals caused by these things damage the arteries and oxidize the LDL to create plaque.
4 Symptoms of Clogged Arteries You Shouldn’t Ignore
While you may be familiar with some of these symptoms, there are a couple you might find surprising.
- Chest Pain (or “angina”) is one of the most common symptoms of clogged arteries. It usually occurs on the middle or left side of chest in the form of tightness or pressure. Kind of like someone is pushing against it. This symptom happens as a response to emotional or physical stress. (10)
- Calf Pain or cramping that triggers when you walk but settles down when you stop is a sign of a blocked artery. This is because fatty cholesterol deposits are lining the walls of leg arteries and making it harder for blood to flow freely through your veins. (11)
- Erectile Dysfunction (ED) in older adults can be a sign of blocked arteries. As erections require the free-flow of blood throughout the body, researchers have confirmed that ED could be caused by a blockage somewhere in your body. (12)
- Chronic Lower Back Pain is a surprising symptom of clogged arteries because it’s a condition that so many people experience. But it doesn’t necessarily mean you have plaque-filled arteries. However, a study published in PLoS One found that chronic low back pain is associated with a higher risk of myocardial infarction and coronary heart disease. (13)
Many people have been led to believe that avoiding foods high in cholesterol, like saturated fats, would solve the problem of high cholesterol levels in the blood. The low-fat diet trend has become very popular, but high cholesterol and heart disease statistics have only risen.
The issue of oxidizing LDL is prominently caused by trans fats which are prominent in many packaged foods and restaurant menus. Meanwhile, research is showing that butter and eggs which were thought to be bad in high cholesterol, are actually beneficial for one’s health. (6) Here are foods that you should be shunning.
Must Avoid: 10 Foods that Promote Free Radicals and Plaque Formation
1. Canola Oil and Other Processed Oils
Instead: Coconut oil is a great oil alternative for baking and cookies since it can withstand high heat temperatures without oxidizing.
2. Packaged Foods Such as Potato Chips, Crackers, etc.
Instead: Snacks such as homemade chips are really easy to make.
3. Cookies and Other Sugary Products
Instead: Homemade baked goods are always healthier, and you can swap the sugar for dates, raw honey, organic maple syrup, or coconut sugar.
4. Processed Meats Such as Salami, Bologna, Bacon
Instead: It’s best to avoid processed meat altogether and cook your own organic, grass-fed beef and chicken.
Instead: The occasional glass of red wine can be beneficial but too much can be counterproductive for one’s health.
6. Milk and Other Conventional Dairy Products
Instead: Coconut and almond make great alternatives for milk and keep in mind that raw, organic butter is actually beneficial.
7. Refined Grain Products
Instead: Opt for whole, organic grains such as quinoa, brown rice, or buckwheat.
Instead: Coconut oil and butter are perfect options for homemade baking since they share a similar consistency to margarine.
9. Fried Foods (7)
Instead: Baking or roasting is an excellent way to reduce the amount of oil used in foods.
10. Charcoal-Grilled Meats (8)
Instead: Roast, steam, stir-fry, or broil
Foods that Lower Cholesterol
Here is a list of ten antioxidant-rich foods you should eat to combat high cholesterol and plaque formation:
- Coconut oil
- Dark unsweetened cacao
- Black and green tea
- Nuts like almonds, walnuts, and pistachios
- Olive oil
- Edamame beans
- Beans like black beans, kidney, lentils
- Pears and apple (9)
1) Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. High Cholesterol Facts https://www.cdc.gov/cholesterol/facts.htm Updated: March 17, 2015. Accessed: January 5, 2017
2) National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute. National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute. What Is Cholesterol? https://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/health/health-topics/topics/hbc Accessed: January 5, 2017
3) Wenrui Hao , Avner Friedman. The LDL-HDL Profile Determines the Risk of Atherosclerosis: A Mathematical Model. http://journals.plos.org/plosone/article?id=10.1371/journal.pone.0090497 Published: March 12, 2014. Accessed: January 5, 2017
(4) Benjamin M. Scirica, Christopher P. Cannon. Circulation. 2005;111:e360-e363 Treatment of Elevated Cholesterol. Originally published: May 30, 2005. Accessed: January 5, 2017
(5) V. Lobo, A. Patil, A. Phatak, and N. Chandra. Pharmacogn Rev. 2010 Jul-Dec; 4(8): 118–126. Free radicals, antioxidants and functional foods: Impact on human health. Accessed: January 5, 2017
(6) Dr. Mercola. Butter Is Back—Processed Foods Are Identified as Real Culprits in Heart Disease. http://articles.mercola.com/sites/articles/archive/2014/06/23/butter-trans-fat.aspx
Published: June 23, 2014. Accessed: January 5, 2017
7) Dr. Axe. 7 High-Cholesterol Foods to Avoid (Plus 3 to Eat). https://draxe.com/high-cholesterol-foods/ Accessed: January 5, 2017
8) Dr. Kim. Making Sense of Free Radicals and Antioxidants. http://drbenkim.com/articles-freeradicals.html Posted: Jan 26, 2008. Accessed: January 5, 2017
(9) WedMD. Foods to Help Lower LDL (‘Bad’) Cholesterol. http://www.webmd.com/cholesterol-management/ss/slideshow-cholesterol-lowering-foods Accessed: January 5, 2017
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