Cholesterol and Blood Pressure Guidelines
For decades, government health authorities have been telling us to eat less cholesterol. The reason for this is that higher levels of certain kinds of cholesterol in the body are associated with higher risk of heart disease and cardiovascular problems, like atherosclerosis (hardening of the arteries).
These kinds of conditions are also linked with high blood pressure, hence the frequent advice to eat less cholesterol to lower your blood pressure.
But is this true? What’s the relationship between cholesterol and blood pressure? Does eating less cholesterol really lower your blood pressure? In fact, does eating less cholesterol even lower your cholesterol levels?
Cholesterol and blood pressure guidelines – the latest
Cholesterol is found in foods like red meat, eggs, and dairy products but it’s also produced by your body and used to make hormones, vitamin D, digestive secretions, and cell membranes. (It’s not actually a fat but a form of steroid.)
In 2015 the US government issued an updated set of “dietary guidelines” for the American populace and for the first time in decades it did not include an upper limit on the amount of cholesterol it advises you to get.
The dietary guidelines still recommend keeping cholesterol intake low. However, they’ve dropped the recommendation that had been in place since 2010 about keeping your cholesterol intake under 300mg a day – even eating two medium-sized eggs a day would put you over that.
The reason is that there simply isn’t enough scientific evidence showing that having a low-cholesterol diet is better for your heart and blood vessels, or general health.
How are high cholesterol and blood pressure related? How does cholesterol affect blood pressure?
There are two different kinds of cholesterol. Low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol is often called “bad cholesterol”. This is because LDL cholesterol, along with some other kinds of fats, is thought to build up on the walls of the arteries, causing them to thicken and harden. Stiffer and narrower blood vessels means higher blood pressure, and also puts you more at risk of stroke and heart attack.
High-density lipoprotein (HDL) is “good cholesterol” as it actually helps draw bad cholesterol out of your blood, taking it to your liver, where it begins to be processed and removed from your body. HDL cholesterol therefore actually prevents LDL cholesterol accumulating in your blood.
There is evidence that high levels of LDL cholesterol in the body are linked to higher risk of cardiovascular disease and high blood pressure – although it should be noticed that some scientists dispute this.
Does eating less cholesterol lower blood pressure?
Well, this is why the US government has changed its dietary advice about cholesterol: the amount cholesterol you eat does not necessarily increase the amount of cholesterol in your body.
As US Dietary Guidelines state:
“More research is needed regarding the dose-response relationship between dietary cholesterol and blood cholesterol levels. Adequate evidence is not available for a quantitative limit for dietary cholesterol specific to the Dietary Guidelines.”
US Dietary Guidelines 2015, Chapter 1
(see link at bottom for full publication/website)
Many studies now show that the body largely compensates for changes in cholesterol intake to keep blood cholesterol levels constant. What happens is your liver produces cholesterol and it regulates how much it produces in relation to how much cholesterol is in your blood. In other words, the more cholesterol you eat, the less your liver produces, and the less cholesterol you eat, the more your liver produces.
What’s more, research suggests that other things you eat affect your cholesterol levels more than eating cholesterol itself does. For example trans fats raise levels of LDL cholesterol, and sugary and starchy foods can too.
What can I do to lower my cholesterol levels and blood pressure?
First off, don’t worry about the cholesterol you might be eating. If you’re concerned about your cholesterol levels, there are two things you can do.
FIrstly, focus on eating more of the things which can help lower cholesterol levels.
These include oats which contain a fibre called beta-glucan which absorbs cholesterol from the blood (more on this here: can oats help lower blood pressure?)
Also, eating plenty unsaturated fats can also lower cholesterol levels. These are mainly plant fats, found in nuts, seeds, avocados, some oils (olive oil, sesame seed oil are healthy oils) and also in fatty fish like salmon, mackerel and herring.
Secondly, eat less of the things that do cause your cholesterol levels to increase, mainly trans fats and sugary and starchy foods. Yes, it might sound odd, but eating foods which are high in cholesterol is unlikely to raise your cholesterol levels as much as eating foods which contain little or no cholesterol but which are high in trans fats or sugars and starches. Getting too much sugar is far worse for your blood pressure than getting lots of cholesterol! (Click here to read more on sugar and high blood pressure.)
What about saturated fats and high blood pressure? Do I have to eat less of these?
The US government dietary guidelines of 2015 still recommend keeping your saturated fat intake to less than 10% of the total calories you consume in a day. Even if you wanted to calculate this and figure it all out, it’s unnecessary as many scientists and nutritionists point out that US government advice is still dated in this regard.
There are numerous studies piling up showing that eating saturated fat doesn’t increase your risk of heart disease or high blood pressure, and that the original research the government advice was based on was flawed.
You can read more about this here: saturated fat and blood pressure
The only type of fat you really want to steer clear of is trans fat. These are artificially added to many processed foods – – frozen pizza, cakes, cookies, pies, pastries and other baked goods, margarines and spreads, coffee creams and ice cream… Trans fats are also found in many fried foods and take-out foods.
There’s loads of other nonsense in processed foods (added salt, added sugar, or horrible chemical sugar substitutes). In general, it’ll only do you good to ditch processed foods as much as you can – for your blood pressure and general health. Enough said.
But this isn’t so bad now you know you can safely eat eggs, steak, butter…
Lower your blood pressure naturally
As well as eating to keep your cholesterol levels healthy, there are many many other things you can do to lower your blood pressure naturally.
There’s actually a large choice of affordable natural ingredients that lower blood pressure – fruits, vegetables, grains, meats and drinks as well as herbs and spices – all of which are available in local stores.
Of course there are other factors beyond diet (like fitness and stress) which affect your blood pressure. So the best way to lower your blood pressure without drugs is to apply a broader approach – covering all causes and cures with natural home-based remedies.
To help with this, we’ve put togerther an easy-to-follow step-by-step guide to lowering your blood pressure naturally.
Based on the principle that positive incremental change is always best in health matters, each chapter will take you further along the road of greater vigour and peace of mind (and a healthy blood pressure).
Click on the link below for more information (you can also download a free sample section):
Post by Alison
Image credit: eggs by Matthew Murdoch on flickr.com
A few references: