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Nutrition: Ask Elsa

QI've recently been diagnosed with high cholesterol. I'd like to see if I can lower it through diet before considering medication. What would you advise?

AMy advice would be to eat a vegetarian-based diet with plenty of beans & lentils, whole grains, fresh fruit and vegetables. Avoid white-flour foods and sugar. It's crucial to reduce saturated fats and trans-fatty acids. Trans-fatty acids are hidden in many processed foods such as margarines, biscuits and crackers.

I would suggest increasing your consumption of omega 3 essential fatty acids by consuming three portions of deep-sea oily fish per week such as salmon, sardines, mackerel etc. If you don't like eating fish, consider an omega 3 fish oil supplement.

Garlic, onions and ginger should be used as much as possible in cooking as they can reduce blood cholesterol levels and triglycerides. Always use cold-pressed oils such as extra virgin olive oil.

Oats can also be beneficial. Apple pectin helps eliminate cholesterol from the body. Grate an apple (skin included) into your porridge and add one to two tablespoons of ground flaxseed.

I'd also recommend that you reduce alcohol consumption, exercise regularly and manage your stress levels. If you are carrying excess weight, particularly around the abdomen, it's vital that you lose it. Consider joining a weight-loss group run by nutritionists. See website for details.

QI've heard a lot lately about the affects of coconut oil and its benefits for heart health. A lot of the information is quite conflicting. What's your view?

A Much negative information concerning coconut oil being detrimental to the cardiovascular system may be unwarranted. Coconut oil taken internally should be used or consumed raw as the hydrogenated oil is ineffective in its altered state, therefore only extra-virgin, unadulterated coconut oil should be used. This is available in health food stores.

Coconut oil is a health-giving oil. Consumption in small amounts has been found to indirectly reduce high blood pressure and cholesterol.

Another benefit of coconut oil is that it can withstand very high amounts of heat without generating free radicals which are toxic to the cardiovascular system.

It is therefore a good choice of oil to use for frying.

More information is available at www.elsajones nutrition.ie. Elsa Jones is a nutritional therapist and presents How Healthy Are You? on TV3. Elsa also offers individual consultations.