8 tips to lower cholesterol and improve heart health

In this day and age, the phrase 'eating clean' should be familiar to many by now.

It basically means eliminating unhealthy foods from your diet, such as oily or calorie-laden meals, and replacing them with more wholesome foods.

An increasing number of Singaporeans are becoming more conscious of their health and what they put into their bodies, turning to "better-quality products" including cordyceps or ginseng, according to a 2015 report by strategic market research provider Euromonitor International.

Many Singaporeans may also be unaware that they have high cholesterol.

The health issue was ranked the second most prevalent cardiovascular risk factor among adult Singaporeans aged 18 to 69 years in 2010, according to Today.

Here are 8 ways to keep your heart healthy and your cholesterol level low.

1. Harness the benefits of Red Yeast Rice

File photo: Chris Tan

Red yeast rice, or 'hong qu' in Chinese, contains Monacolin K, a naturally occurring substance that supports healthy cholesterol levels by blocking the production of cholesterol in our body, according to Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) specialist Eu Yan Sang.

Based on medical studies, red yeast rice has been able to lower bad cholesterol by as much as 18 per cent in 8 weeks.

CholesFREE, a supplement by Eu Yan Sang, makes it easier to harness the benefits of the TCM ingredient.

The product is available in capsules and is made of fermented red yeast rice, which is known for its medicinal properties in aiding digestion and blood flow.

CholesFREE has also undergone the patented preparation technique known as ZEROTOX®.

It is to retain the Monacolin K needed for supporting healthy cholesterol levels while removing the impurities that cause herb-drug interactions and potential side effects.

While it is not recommended for pregnant women or those who are breast-feeding, CholesFREE is suitable for anyone who wants to maintain healthy cholesterol levels.

If you are currently on prescription medication, please consult your doctor before taking CholesFREE.

2. Get your fill of Omega-3

File photo: Berita Harian

If you thought there's no type of fat out there that could protect you from heart disease - think again. Omega-3 fatty acids is one such type of fat that has been shown to prevent heart disease.

Incidentally, the leading cause of death in Singaporean women is heart disease. However, survey findings by the Singapore Heart Foundation revealed in June this year showed that only 10 per cent of women here are aware of this fact.

Some good sources of omega-3 fatty acids which everyone - and not just women - should consider introducing to their diets are coldwater fish like salmon and sardines as well as red meat, but only cuts that are under 30 per cent fat.

It could be costly to select salmon when dining out so the cheaper option is to buy the fish in bulk from your neighbourhood wet market or even visit factories that are open to public purchases such as Fassler Gourmet in Woodlands Terrace. So buy your own and have fun with the way you eat your produce healthily - either baked, grilled or even air-fried.

Busy bees with no time to spare in the kitchen could opt for fish oil capsules instead to get their daily dose of Omega-3s.

3. Eat more fibre-rich foods

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In fact, consume more soluble fibre from foods like beans, oats, oat bran, barley, fruits, and vegetables.

Other excellent sources include yams, and even legumes or beans, such as chickpeas.

For those who are still experimenting with how to incorporate such foods into their diets, take things slow and perhaps try out these foods in small ways. Sprinkle flaxseed on your warm rolled oats or have your sweet potatoes peppered with some cinnamon.

Find yourself dining out more often? Visit your favourite soup joint but only select options with healthier options. Most restaurants in Singapore and even stalls at your local coffee shop indicate on their menus which dishes are healthier options.

4. Choose protein-rich plant foods over meat

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Legumes are considered protein-rich plant foods and they include lentils, peas, and even soybeans.

They are packed with nutritional goodness and can help lower total cholesterol as well as LDL cholesterol, low-density lipoprotein, or LDL - which is considered the "bad" cholesterol according to the American Heart Association (AHA).

This is due the fact that it contributes to plaque that can clog arteries and thereafter cause a heart attack or stroke.

5. Cut out meat completely and make friends with vegetables

File photo: The Straits Times

Well, OK maybe not completely, but how about going meatless once a week? Hello Meatless Mondays! Going 'vegan' for a day can be fun.

This might be difficult if you're working and do not have accessible salad spots near you. The best (and most economical) option is to pack food from home.

Try to substitute meat and poultry, fish, eggs, cheese for plant-based foods rich in protein such as tofu or quinoa. Replacing your white rice with quinoa and meat for tofu might very well decrease your saturated fat intake - and contour that waistline.

6. Keep moving and get that heart rate up

Photo: Berita Harian

Get active and throw yourself into moderate physical activities - especially if you have been used to leading a sedentary lifestyle - and you will soon begin to see positive effects on both your body and health. Exercising doesn't have to take too long, about 10 minutes of intense exercise a day will go a long way.

You could ride a bicycle to work, hop onto an old-school scooter to your office or to run errands, indulge in your favourite sport, take the stairs instead of the elevator and even more. YouTube is free for use so search for some easy Pilates or aerobic workouts to copy in the comfort of your own home.

Moderate physical activity can help raise high-density lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol, the "good" cholesterol, said the AHA.

7. Avoid refined sugars and grains

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Instead of refined flour and white rice, try whole-wheat flour and brown or wild rice.

There is a lot of hidden sugar in your cereals so choose wisely. Choosing one from your local supermarket's organic food aisle or websites like iHerb.com might help you in selecting a good box of cereal. It might take a while to get accustomed to the taste but at least you know you are providing your body with the right nutrients.

8. Reduce carb intake

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Research shows that following a low-carb eating plan can help you lose weight and reduce cardiovascular risk factors. Choosing fibre-rich carbohydrates like oatmeal, fruit and sweet potatoes will help you feel full longer and prevent the unnecessary snacking.

Research has shown that not all carbs must be avoided -- so there's no need to go all out on an Atkins diet. The myth about white rice can also be debunked if you have your rice without fattening gravy or oily side dishes.

This article is sponsored by Eu Yan Sang.