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21p vegetable found to reduce ‘bad’ cholesterol levels by 20%

High cholesterol: Nutritionist reveals top prevention tips

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High cholesterol means you have too much cholesterol – a waxy substance produced by the liver – in your blood. The type to worry about is LDL cholesterol, which is commonly referred to as the “bad” cholesterol because it clings to walls of your arteries. Fortunately, you can cause marked reductions in LDL cholesterol by overhauling your diet. Research, published in the Royal Society of Chemistry journal, Food and Function, makes a strong case for eating red onions.

Researchers demonstrated how the vegetable’s effects can reduce heart disease by retaining “good cholesterol” and removing “bad cholesterol” from the body.

The “good” type counters the harmful effects of LDL cholesterol by picking it up and transporting it to your liver where it’s flushed out.

Chinese researchers bought a basketful of red onions from their local market and began studying the onions’ health properties after feeding them to hamsters.

The 36 male hamsters were randomly divided into three groups and fed a high-cholesterol control diet or the two experimental diets supplemented with either one per cent onion powder (OP-1) or five per cent onion powder (OP-5) for a period of eight weeks.

The powder was derived from boiling the onions before filtering and spray-drying the extract.

The team found the groups who were fed the onion-powdered diet saw their levels of “bad cholesterol” (low-density lipoprotein or LDL) drop, while simultaneously managing to retain high levels of “good cholesterol” (high-density lipoprotein or HDL).

At weeks four and eight, cholesterol levels of the OP-5 group decreased by 11.2 percent and 20.3 percent compared with the control group.

Although cholesterol levels were lower in the OP-1 group, they were not statistically different from the control hamsters.

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Red onions are a popular ingredient to salads, marinades, salsas and roasts and the sweet flavour of Italian red onions means they are often used to make marmalades, thanks to their extra juiciness.

Although it has been shown that the onion possesses various biological activities, such as being an antibiotic and antidiabetic, the chemistry of onions has been the subject of many investigations.

Lead researcher Zhen Yu Chen, from the Chinese University of Hong Kong, said: “Despite extensive research on onions, little is known of how their consumption interacts with human genes and proteins involved in cholesterol metabolism within the body. Our study was therefore undertaken to characterise the interaction of onions with enzymes in an attempt to explore the underlying cholesterol-lowering mechanism.

“This study was the first of its kind to investigate the interaction of red onions with biological functions. Results demonstrated that the onions decreased cholesterol levels in a dose-dependant manner. The results support the claim that the regular consumption of onions reduces the risk of coronary heart disease.”

Further research is needed to see if the effect can be repeated in humans.

General tips to lower high levels

The NHS says: “To reduce your cholesterol, try to cut down on fatty food, especially food that contains a type of fat called saturated fat.”

Saturated fat is the kind of fat found in butter, lard, ghee, fatty meats and cheese.

You can still have foods that contain a healthier type of fat called unsaturated fat, notes the NHS.

Try to eat more:

  • Oily fish, like mackerel and salmon
  • Brown rice, bread and pasta
  • Nuts and seeds
  • Fruits and vegetables.

You should also aim to do at least 150 minutes (2.5 hours) of exercise a week, says the NHS.

Some good things to try when starting out include:

  • Walking – try to walk fast enough so your heart starts beating faster
  • Swimming
  • Cycling.

Try a few different exercises to find something you like doing. You’re more likely to keep doing it if you enjoy it.

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