It’s important to understand that cholesterol per se isn’t bad. In fact, it’s essential to the functions of the body. A combination of fatty acids and protein produced in the liver, cholesterol helps build cell membranes; lubricate the channels of the body; and synthesize vitamin D, hormones, and bile acids. To remain healthy, the body needs the lubrication and elasticity that this fatty substance provides.
From an Ayurvedic perspective, cholesterol becomes harmful only when amais present in the body. Ama is the metabolic waste that accumulates in the body as a result of improper digestion. It can block the body’s channels and arteries, causing a variety of health concerns and imbalances.
According to Ayurveda, the key to balancing cholesterol in the body lies in maintaining the strength and healthy functioning of our digestive fire (metabolic process). A strong, balanced metabolic process prevents ama from accumulating in the body and thus helps keep fat tissue and cholesterol levels in balance.
Ayurvedic principles hold that an overabundance of the kapha dosha in our systems can disrupt this balance, slowing the metabolism and promoting the accumulation of fat. This buildup of fat in turn leads to increased levels of cholesterol in our bloodstream. In keeping with this logic, a diet that pacifies the kapha imbalance would serve as the first step toward balancing cholesterol levels and optimizing fat metabolism.
Such a diet favors foods that have primarily bitter, astringent, and pungent tastes. Astringent foods include dried beans, such as split mung dhal, lentils, and garbanzo beans. Avoid larger beans such as pinto and black beans. Vegetables and fruits with an astringent taste range from broccoli, cabbage, and cauliflower to apples and pears. Bitter foods, such chard, kale, spinach, and other leafy greens, should be cooked with spices that help cleanse the bowel and prevent bad cholesterol from accumulating in the body. These include black pepper, garlic, cardamom, turmeric, ginger, fennel, cumin, cinnamon, cilantro, basil, asafetida, and parsley.
Avoiding the three tastes that increase kapha—namely, sweet, sour, and salty—is equally important. In addition to sugary foods, you should limit your intake of other sweet-tasting foods such as wheat, pasta, breads, yams, and sweet milk products. Sour foods, such as lemons, tomatoes, cheese, yogurt, and vinegar, are often found in dressings, ketchup, mustard, and pickles—so use condiments sparingly. Try cooking with less salt in your food, and avoid processed foods such as crackers, salted nuts, and chips.
One of the best ways to support a vigorous metabolic process is to eat cooked food that’s freshly prepared and still warm. Cook with small amounts of oil, such as ghee or mustard oil or sunflower oil. Avoid dry, hard, cool foods as well as frozen foods and packaged meals.
Ayurveda recommends a variety of herbs to support the body’s capacity to manage cholesterol levels. The herbal formula triphala can be consumed before bed to improve digestion and fat metabolism. Guduchi can also be taken daily to boost fat burning and cholesterol metabolism by enhancing liver function. Studies of guggul have shown it reduces cholesterol as much as cholesterol-lowing drugs, but without harmful side effects. Research also suggests that turmeric lowers triglycerides and serum cholesterol. Consider speaking with an Ayurvedic practitioner for more specific information about what herbal support and dietary measures will work best for you.
CHOLESTEROL BALANCING SPICE MIXTURE
6 parts ground cumin
6 parts ground coriander
6 parts ground fennel
3 parts ground turmeric
2 parts ground fenugreek
1 part powdered ginger
1 part ground black pepper
Mix and store; use desired amount for cooking.
The sole purpose of these articles is to provide information about the tradition of Ayurveda. This information is not intended for use in the diagnosis, treatment, cure, or prevention of any disease.