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A Heads Up On Cholesterol

October is National Cholesterol Month in the UK. So, we thought it might be helpful to write a blog regarding all the facts about cholesterol and fill in any gaps in your knowledge!

What is Cholesterol?

Cholesterol is a fatty substance or lipid (blood fat) which is naturally produced in the liver. It is used to make certain hormones and vitamin D, as well as bile acids, which help digest and absorb dietary fat.

It can also be found in some foods such as: full fat dairy foods like milk, cheese, yogurt and cream: animal fats such as butter, ghee, margarine, lard, suet and dripping: fatty meat and processed meat products such as sausages & pies: coconut and palm oils.

How Does it Work?

Your blood carries cholesterol around your body on proteins called lipoproteins, of which there are two main types:

  • High density lipoproteins (HDL): these take cholesterol you don’t need back to the liver to be broken down and passed out of the body. Often referred to as ‘good’ cholesterol as it removes cholesterol from the blood
  • Non-high-density lipoproteins (Non-HDL): these take cholesterol from the liver to the cells around the body. Often referred to as ‘bad’ cholesterol because when there is too much, it can build up in your arteries, causing them to become narrowed or blocked, increasing your risk of heart attack or stroke

Everyone needs some cholesterol to keep their bodies ticking over and to stay healthy. However, as described above, too much cholesterol can clog up the arteries and lead to serious health problems in the future.

So, What Are The Main Causes Of High Cholesterol & Why Is It Bad For You?

Anyone can have high cholesterol (even if you are young, slim, eat well and exercise) because it can be caused by a number of different things.

The main causes however are:

  • regularly eating foods that are high in saturated fat
  • not being active enough
  • smoking
  • having too much body fat, especially around your middle
  • genetics – it can run in families, so you may be pre-disposed to it

High cholesterol is very common, but typically most people don’t know they have it. Usually there are no symptoms, which is why it is a good idea for everyone to consider having a simple test done.

If you find your cholesterol is raised then there are treatments available, but it is usually possible to lower cholesterol naturally with healthy lifestyle changes.

Dietary Cholesterol – avoid confusion!

Some foods naturally contain dietary cholesterol, but they don’t actually make a big difference to the cholesterol in your blood.  These are foods like eggs, some shellfish such as prawns and crab and offal such as liver, liver pate and kidneys. These foods are low in saturated fat, so are fine to eat as part of a healthy diet. Only cut down on these foods if your doctor or a dietitian has specifically advised you to do so. To lower cholesterol, it is more important to cut down on the amount of saturated fat you are eating.

Can High Cholesterol Be Reversed?

Yes is the answer!  Just a few small and relatively simple changes to your diet can and will make a big difference to your cholesterol levels. Also, generally being more active, losing weight if necessary and stopping smoking will all contribute to lowering levels.

Here are a few food examples of better unsaturated fats, which when incorporated into your diet will help with your cholesterol levels:

·       Oily fish such as mackerel, salmon & sardines

·       Leaner meat such as skinless chicken and turkey

·       Sunflower, soya, corn or safflower oils, olive and rapeseed oil

·       Flax, pumpkin and sesame seeds

·       Avocado

·       Unsalted nuts such as almonds, walnuts, cashews and hazelnuts

Eat more high fibre foods…

Some high fibre foods can also help lower your cholesterol and eating plenty of fibre also helps lower your risk of heart disease. So, make sure you:

  • eat plenty of fruit and vegetables every day
  • choose wholegrain varieties of bread, cereals, pasta and rice
  • eat plenty of other high fibre foods such as pulses (lentils, beans, chickpeas), oats, unsalted nuts and seeds

Getting a Cholesterol Test

It is recommended that all adults get their cholesterol checked– no matter what your age or how healthy you feel, the only way to know your cholesterol level, is to be checked. 

A cholesterol check involves a simple blood test which your GP/surgery/healthcare provider can perform. The test can also be useful to check another blood fat called ‘triglycerides’, as these also affect your heart health.

Summary

  • Cholesterol is a fatty substance found in your blood. There are two main types: HDL- cholesterol or ‘good’ cholesterol and non- HDL cholesterol or ‘bad’ cholesterol
  • Too much non-HDL cholesterol can cause your arteries to become blocked. This increases your risk of having a heart attack or stroke
  • A healthy balanced diet, being physically active, stopping smoking and keeping a healthy weight and shape can all help to lower your cholesterol
  • Replace foods containing saturated fats with healthy fats such as olive or rapeseed oil, nuts, seeds, fish and avocado
  • Increase your fibre intake by choosing vegetables, fruits, wholegrains, pulses, nuts and seeds
  • Taking a cholesterol test is the only way to find out your cholesterol levels

Once you have found out what your cholesterol level is, good luck with any lifestyle changes that might need to be made.

October 6, 2021

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