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What you need to know about cholesterol

What you need to know about cholesterol

By Laura Briggs

We’ve all heard about high cholesterol and the risks it poses to our health, but how much do you really know about cholesterol and what you can do about it?

What is cholesterol?

You can find cholesterol in all of the cells in the body. It’s a waxy, fat-like substance and the body uses it to make hormones, vitamin D and other substances which help you digest foods. The body makes its own cholesterol, but it is also found in the foods we eat. Cholesterol is carried through the bloodstream by lipoproteins, of which there are two types – Low Density Lipoproteins (LDL, or “bad” cholesterol) and High Density Lipoproteins (HDL, or “good” cholesterol)

What causes high cholesterol?

There are many reasons why we might get high cholesterol – some in our control, and others that we inherit. If someone in your immediate family has high cholesterol then you might too. With more than 100 genes that can affect blood fats in the body, if just one is faulty then that can raise your cholesterol to dangerous levels.

An unhealthy lifestyle is another big factor in high cholesterol. Smoking, drinking, eating the wrong foods – saturated fats such as butter, lard, cheese, full fat milk and fatty meats are all bad for cholesterol. Unsaturated fats are good fats and are better for us.

Cholesterol levels naturally increase as you get older and medical conditions including type 2 diabetes, underactive thyroid and kidney problems can all increase levels.

What does high cholesterol mean? 

By having high cholesterol you are putting yourself at increased risk from heart disease, which can cause a number of health issues, and in extreme cases, death.

How can I reduce my cholesterol?

Be aware of your cholesterol levels by getting tested regularly, and start exercising regularly in conjunction with a healthy eating plan. Switch high cholesterol foods like butter for low fat spreads – some even claim to reduce cholesterol. Rather than frying foods, try to bake, roast, or use other methods that don’t involve cooking with fat. If you are using fats in your cooking, try olive oil, or other oils that contain “good fats”. Switch high fat content milk and cheese for lower fat alternatives and boost your intake of fresh fruit and vegetables which don’t contain any of the bad fats. Cut out the cakes and chocolates and if you drink, only drink in moderation. As always, if you’re a smoker, now’s the time to quit.

Are there any cholesterol super-foods?

Yes, there are a number of foods that can actively reduce your cholesterol level. These include fruit and vegetables, soya based foods, nuts, oats, barley and plant stenols and stanols which are found in a wide range of foods including vegetable oils, nuts, seeds and whole grains. Foods rich in unsaturated fats are good for decreasing cholesterol. These include avocados, oily fish, nuts and oils such as olive, sunflower, corn and rapeseed.