Oats and cholesterol
Lowering cholesterol with oats
Oats contain a special type of natural soluble fibre called beta-glucan, found in the endosperm layer of the oat grain. Studies show that eating about 3g of beta-glucan a day helps lower cholesterol reabsorption^. When cholesterol enters your digestive tract from food or as bile from the liver, some of it is reabsorbed via the bloodstream as part of the fat metabolism process. Beta-glucan dissolves in the digestive tract, where it forms a thick gel which binds to excess cholesterol. The gel and the cholesterol are then excreted as waste rather than being reabsorbed back into the body, helping to lower cholesterol reabsorption.
Uncle Tobys selectively breeds oats for their high beta-glucan content. We also test a sample of our oats up to three times for their beta-glucan content, ensuring that only the highest quality oats make it into a box of Uncle Tobys.
^A 40g serve of oats provides a minimum of 1g beta-glucan. Oats can help lower cholesterol reabsorption as part of a healthy diet low in saturated fat. 3g of beta-glucan each day is required to help lower cholesterol reabsorption.
What is cholesterol?
Cholesterol is a fatty substance produced by the liver and also present in some foods we eat. Your body needs a small amount of ‘good’ HDL cholesterol to:
- Produce sex hormones such as oestrogen and testosterone
- Support your digestion by producing bile acids which digest fat and absorb nutrients
- Carry ‘bad’ LDL cholesterol away from your arteries to your liver, where it's broken down to be removed
- Create vitamin D
Cholesterol is used for many different things in the body, but causes health problems when there is too much of it in the blood. A diet high in saturated fat, which can clog arteries and raise blood cholesterol levels, is the main cause of high cholesterol. Other causes include:
- Being overweight
- Being physically inactive
- Having a family history of high cholesterol
Foods that help you control your cholesterol
You can reduce the amount of saturated fat you eat by switching from butter to margarine, choosing reduced-fat dairy products and trimming visible fat from meat. Also, eating mainly plant-based foods like vegetables, fruits and legumes (dried peas, dried beans and lentils), and grain-based foods (preferably wholegrain) like oats, bread, pasta, noodles and rice helps keep cholesterol levels lower.
Consume moderate amounts of lean meats, poultry and fish, and small amounts of polyunsaturated or monounsaturated oils and margarines.
In addition to eating a healthy diet that’s low in saturated fat and includes good fats, some foods which have been shown to help lower cholesterol reabsorption in people with raised blood cholesterol levels. These include:
- Oats – rich in beta-glucan, found in the outermost oat bran layer of the oat grain
- Barley and psyllium – both are natural sources of soluble fibres which can also help lower cholesterol reabsorption
- Plant sterols – found in special margarines, milks and yogurts which have been enriched with these natural plant ingredients. Consuming around 2g plant sterols a day, equivalent to spreading margarine on around 4 slices of bread, can help reduce cholesterol absorption in your intestines.
Your body produces cholesterol too
Dietary cholesterol from foods only a small effect on your blood cholesterol, especially compared with the much greater increase caused by saturated fat. Your body makes its own cholesterol, so it’s best to avoid foods that may lead to high blood cholesterol levels. Visit your GP to have your cholesterol tested with a detailed blood lipid test, which requires you to fast for 12 hours prior. The test will measure your total cholesterol levels, ‘good’ HDL and ‘bad’ LDL cholesterol levels, and a type of blood fat called triglycerides. Adults aged 45 years and older are at greater risk of high cholesterol, so it’s particularly important to be regularly tested if you're in this age bracket.
What's the recommended cholesterol range?
There are numerous considerations for recommended cholesterol levels, with each individual’s situation requiring different professional advice. Your cholesterol levels should be considered as part of your total blood fat or lipid profile. In general terms, the Heart Foundation’s suggested targets are:
- LDL-cholesterol <2.5 mmol/L
- Total cholesterol <4.0 mmol/L
- HDL-cholesterol >1.0 mmol/L
- Triglycerides <2.0 mmol/L