A naturally occurring waxy substance, cholesterol comes in two forms: good and bad. Good cholesterol is carried around the body by high density lipoproteins (HDL) and is simply swept away after use.
Bad cholesterol, transported by low density lipoproteins (LDL), can be deposited in arteries, restricting blood flow, causing coronary heart disease and, at worst, a heart attack.
What creates this LDL menace is saturated fat. We need some fat, but saturated fat from animal products like meat, butter and cheese raises levels of that LDL cholesterol.
Unsaturated fats on the other hand, help protect the heart by reducing levels of LDL cholesterol and maintaining the levels of the good HDL.
So, for our heart’s sake we should cut out saturated fat and replace some of it with unsaturated. Monounsaturated fats are found in olive and rapeseed oils, seeds and nuts. Polyunsaturated fats include Omega 3 and Omega 6.
But there is another way to combat cholesterol. Dietary fibre, particularly the soluble kind, forms a gel in the digestive tract, which binds in cholesterol and then carries it away as waste.
The recommended daily level of fibre consumption is 30g. On average, we only eat just over half of that.
The NHS stresses it can help prevent heart disease, and new global research commissioned by the World Health Organisation has shown that eating 25-29g of fibre a day cuts heart disease, stroke and cancers by up to 30 per cent.
Below is our guide to key plant-based food groups available at Grape Tree that can play an important role in fighting cholesterol, supplying heart healthy nutrients and providing the protein required in a switch from saturated fats.
Research has repeatedly shown that eating a handful of nuts a day can dramatically reduce the chance of developing heart disease, as well as other serious conditions including stroke. The key nut nutrients are believed be monounsaturated fats, fibre, antioxidants and minerals. Walnuts are rich in Omega 3, but cashews, hazelnuts and peanuts are all sources of good fat. Brazils, cashews and almonds also have magnesium which is linked to controlling blood pressure and heart rhythm.
Linseed is one of the richest plant sources of Omega 3 fatty acids. Two tablespoons of ground linseed can deliver more than 3g of alpha-linoleic acid, as well as almost 4g of fibre. Hemp seeds are exceptionally rich in both Omega 6 and Omega 3. Plus, they have both soluble and insoluble fibre. They are also excellent protein sources.
All healthy heart advice stresses the importance of eating five a day to supply the nutrients and antioxidants in fruit and vegetables. In fruit terms this, of course, includes dried. Apricots, figs, dates and raisins all have a variety of important vitamins, minerals and antioxidants but it is their fibre content that makes them critical to heart health.