Dyslipidemia is characterized by abnormal levels of cholesterol and lipids in the blood. Although lipids, also called fats, are necessary for the body’s normal functioning,
abnormally high levels increase the risk of heart disease.
The most common treatment of dyslipidemia is cholesterol-lowering drugs. However, diet also plays a vital role in maintaining healthy cholesterol levels in the blood. Studies suggest that upgrading your diet to the Mediterranean diet can help reduce cholesterol. In this article, we will discuss what happens in dyslipidemia, what is a Mediterranean diet, and how it works in lowering cholesterol.
What happens in the body when you have dyslipidemia?
If you have dyslipidemia, you may have a similar lipid profile to the following:
- Increased levels of total cholesterol in the blood
- Increased levels of low-density lipoprotein (LDL)
- Increased levels of triglycerides
- Low levels of high-density lipoproteins (HDL)
The LDL is referred to as bad cholesterol while the HDL is called good cholesterol. Elevated levels of LDL and triglycerides are responsible for the build-up of fat in the arteries. Over time, the fat, also known as plaque, narrows the arteries and leads to atherosclerosis (hardening of the arteries). Eventually, this may lead to a heart attack, stroke or other heart diseases. The good cholesterol, on the other hand, has a protective effect. It helps to remove the build-up of plaque in the arteries. Along with regular exercise, eating a balanced diet as advised by your doctor can help you control dyslipidemia.
What is the Mediterranean diet?
The Mediterranean diet is named so because of its similarity with the diet that people in the Mediterranean countries such as Greece and Italy eat. It is a healthy way of eating that comprises low simple carbohydrates, healthy fat and a high amount of fiber and lean proteins (foods rich in proteins with little or no fat).[4,5] The main components of the Mediterranean diet are as follows:
- Fresh fruits and vegetables
- Legumes (beans and lentils)
- Extra virgin olive oil
- Fish rich in omega-3 fatty acids
- Nuts such as almonds, hazelnuts, and walnuts
- Whole grains and starchy vegetables
- Poultry (white meat)
- Dairy and eggs
- Wine (may be optional)
The quantity of each component will depend upon the necessary nourishment it provides. You may include a variety of vegetables and fruits such as spinach, broccoli, tomatoes, and oranges. They provide micronutrients and vitamins as well. Use extra virgin olive oil for cooking as it is least processed and has unsaturated fat. Eat nuts between meals. Switch to fish as the omega-3 fatty acid obtained from fish is a healthy fat that can help improve your good cholesterol.[4,5,7]
How does the Mediterranean diet lower cholesterol?
Scientists have discussed how a Mediterranean diet can lower cholesterol. Following are some important findings:[7,8]
- The reduced intake of saturated fats significantly lowers cholesterol. In the Mediterranean diet, saturated fats are replaced with unsaturated fats like nuts, seeds and fatty fish and carbohydrates with whole grains like bulgar wheat and brown rice. In some studies, the effects are similar to cholesterol-lowering drugs. The poly and monounsaturated fats in the Mediterranean diet increase the good cholesterol and reduce triglycerides.
- Scientists have proposed that the lowering of cholesterol is achieved by degrading the LDL receptor. Some animal studies have shown that the reduced intestinal absorption of cholesterol and increased clearance of LDL lead to the lowering of bad cholesterol with the help of the Mediterranean diet.
- The key components of the Mediterranean diet lower the bad cholesterol levels. Scientists suggest that switching to this diet can benefit throughout life by avoiding the formation of plaque in the blood vessels, thereby avoiding the risks of a heart attack. It is more beneficial to continue this diet lifelong.
You should consult your doctor before you switch to the Mediterranean diet as a part of treatment to reduce your cholesterol levels.
Your health is in your hands. Make healthy food choices and protect your body from increased cholesterol levels; say yes to the Mediterranean diet.
- Hormone Health Network. Dyslipidemia [Internet]. [updated 2018 May; cited 2020 Jan 13]. Available from: https://www.hormone.org/diseases-and-conditions/dyslipidemia.
- Ahmed SM, Clasen ME, Donnelly JF. Management of dyslipidemia in adults. Am Fam Physician. 1998 May 1;57(9):2192-2204.
- Johns Hopkins Medicine. High cholesterol: prevention, treatment, and research [Internet]. [cited 2020 Jan 13]. Available from: https://www.hopkinsmedicine.org/health/conditions-and-diseases/high-cholesterol/high-cholesterol-prevention-treatment-and-research.
- Johns Hopkins Medicine. ABCs of eating smart for a healthy heart [Internet]. [cited 2020 Jan 13]. Available from: https://www.hopkinsmedicine.org/health/wellness-and-prevention/abcs-of-eating-smart-for-a-healthy-heart.
- Eat Healthy. Cholesterol, triglycerides and the Mediterranean diet pattern [Internet]. [cited 2020 Jan 13]. Available from: https://www.healtheuniversity.ca/EN/DiabetesCollege/Documents/S3C4_MediterraneanDiet.pdf.
- Cleveland Clinic. The Mediterranean diet [Internet]. [updated 2017 Sep 1; cited 2020 Jan 13]. Available from: https://my.clevelandclinic.org/health/articles/16037-mediterranean-diet.
- Tosti V, Bertozzi B, Fontana L. Health benefits of the Mediterranean diet: metabolic and molecular mechanisms. J Gerontol A Biol Sci Med Sci. 2018 Mar 2;73(3):318-326. DOI: 10.1093/gerona/glx227.
- Richard C, Couture P, Desroches S, Benjannet S, Seidah NG, Lichtenstein AH, et al. Effect of the Mediterranean diet with and without weight loss on surrogate markers of cholesterol homeostasis in men with the metabolic syndrome. Br J Nutr. 2012 Mar;107(5):705-11. DOI: 10.1017/S0007114511003436.