Cholesterol – What You Need to Know

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Raised blood Cholesterol is often referred to as a ‘silent killer’ and affects around 60% of the UK population.

October 2015 is National Cholesterol Month which aims to raise awareness of what cholesterol is, and what it means for our health and our hearts.

Cholesterol is a waxy substance made by the liver and plays an important role in the body. Cholesterol is one of the building blocks for cell membranes, and is used in synthesising some hormones, so it’s essential for our health. Too much cholesterol in the blood however, especially the wrong kind, can deposit in the artery walls and increase your risk of coronary heart disease, the UK’s biggest killer.

The Bad and the Good

LDL or Low Density Lipoproteins carry cholesterol around the body to the cells. LDL is known as ‘bad’ cholesterol, because when there is too much of it, it can stick to the artery walls, causing our arteries to narrow and become hard. LDL cholesterol levels should be kept below 3 mmol/l

HDL or High Density Lipoproteins are called ‘good’ cholesterol, because they mop-up excess cholesterol and take it back to the liver to be processed or disposed of. This type of cholesterol should be kept above 1 mmol/l

How to keep healthy cholesterol levels?

Fats matter

- Limit saturated fat intake such as those found in animal products like red meat, butter and cheese, some vegetable fats like coconut oil and is often abundant in things like sauces, dressing, processed foods, biscuits, pastries and confectionary. Limit saturated fat intake by trimming visible fat from meat and opting for low-fat dairy products.

- Industrially produced trans-fats, often found in ready meals, pastries, cakes and hard margarines are responsible for increasing LDL cholesterol and decreasing HDL cholesterol so should always be avoided.

- Polyunsaturated fats – these are important as they include important Essential Fatty Acids Omega 3 and Omega 6.

Omega 6s are widespread in most diets, so you need to concentrate on boosting Omega 3 intake found in oily fish like salmon and mackerel, rapeseed oil, walnuts and green leafy vegetables.

- Monounsaturated fats – these are the best fats for heart health and are found alongside polyunsaturated fats in nuts and rapeseed oil and also in olive oil, avocados and seeds.

Fruit and vegetables

Make sure you eat at least 5 portions of fruit and vegetables every day which are full of antioxidants which helps prevent LDL cholesterol oxidising, making them less easily deposited on the artery wall.

Friendly Fibre

A high fibre diet can lead to healthier cholesterol levels. Good sources include fruit and vegetables, grains and nuts. Try to choose wholegrains wherever possible.

Soluble fibres found in oats acts like a sponge and are very efficient in reducing excess LDL cholesterol in the blood.

Move more

Exercise which gets you slightly out of breath and raises your heart rate is great for helping to lower LDL cholesterol and increasing HDL cholesterol levels as well as being good for your waistline.

Build exercise into your daily routine by taking the stairs instead of the lift, walking to the local shops instead of driving, getting off the bus a stop and enjoying a brisk walk at lunchtime will all help to control your cholesterol levels.