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Sunflower oil for 'good' cholesterol

The monounsaturated fats found in vegetable oils and nuts can help boost a person's ‘good’ cholesterol levels when added to an overall diet that curbs ‘bad’ LDL cholesterol.

Sunflower oil for

The monounsaturated fats found in vegetable oils and nuts can help boost a person's 'good' cholesterol levels when added to an overall diet that curbs 'bad' LDL cholesterol.

Monounsaturated fats are an important ingredient in a generally heart-healthy diet. In the past, the traditional Mediterranean diet - rich in monounsaturated fats from olive oil and nuts, but low in saturated fat from meat and dairy - has been linked to a low risk of heart disease. It has also been suggested that Mediterranean - style eating can cut the odds of developing diabetes and metabolic syndrome, a collection of heart disease risk factors that includes high blood pressure, abdominal obesity and low levels of 'good' HDL cholesterol.

Researchers analysed the effects of adding monounsaturated fats to a high-fibre vegetarian diet that had previously been shown to curb LDL cholesterol in adults with elevated levels. They had 24 Canadian patients with high cholesterol, spend one month on a standard low-saturated-fat diet prescribed for cholesterol-lowering. The participants then spent another month on the vegetarian diet; but half were randomly assigned to replace 13 percent of their daily carbohydrates with monounsaturated fats - in the form of sunflower oil.

At the end of the month, it was found that both diet groups showed a similar reduction in LDL cholesterol, of about 20 percent. The total LDL reduction over the two months - the standard cholesterol-cutting diet, plus the vegetarian ones - was 35 percent in both groups, comparable to the benefits that have been seen with cholesterol-lowering statin drugs.

However, the monounsaturated fat group also showed an average increase in HDL cholesterol of about 12 percent, whereas the comparison group showed no change overall. The former group also had a reduction in levels in C-reactive protein, a marker of inflammation in the blood vessels that has been associated with heart disease risk.

This is good news for people with high cholesterol who want to give diet a serious try before resorting to medication. The researchers suggest that people should replace some of their highly refined carbohydrates - like white bread and processed foods - with monounsaturated fats (available in nuts, avocados, sunflower and  olive oil). But the fats are not a magic bullet, and overall eating habits are the key.
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