Cholesterol levels can be affected by factors we cannot alter such as, our family history, age, ethnicity and gender, but there are other factors we can alter. These include avoiding diets high in saturated fat, excess alcohol intake, and leading a sedentary lifestyle; these can all contribute to having high cholesterol.
Cholesterol is often seen as being bad in our diets, when in actual fact we do need some fatty substances in order to aid the digestion of fat.
When there are high levels of cholesterol in the blood, this increases the risk of heart disease, stroke and vascular dementia. Furthermore, the longer the high cholesterol is left untreated in our system, the higher the risk it is to us.
There are two different types of cholesterol, low density lipoprotein (LDL) and high-density lipoprotein (HDL).
The LDL is often known as the “bad cholesterol” as this lipoprotein is responsible for carrying the cholesterol in the blood. Too much LDL cholesterol in our bodies can cause a build-up in our arteries and can cause further narrowing of the arteries. The ‘good cholesterol’ known as HDL, works by getting the excess cholesterol from our arteries and transports it back to the liver, removing it from circulation in our blood stream. There is non- HDL cholesterol which is known to be detrimental to our health and can further cause narrowing of our arteries.
We advise people that a change in both diet and lifestyle is vital in reducing your cholesterol. With regards to your diet, it is important to eat certain foods and avoid others. It is important to cut down on foods which are high in saturated fat and use substitutes which have more unsaturated fats e.g. using vegetable oils and using spreads which are made from vegetable oil, nuts or seeds.
We would encourage eating plenty of plant-based foods as snacks including fruit, vegetables, whole-grains or a handful of nuts.
Also recommended is eating two portions of fish per week, with one being oily fish for example, mackerel or sardines.
Try to eat whole grains, and in particular oats and barley which are known to be effective in lowering cholesterol as they contain a specific type of fibre known as beta-glucan.
Essentially beta glucan works but limiting the amount of cholesterol that is absorbed in the gut. As a result, having a simple bowl of porridge oats, or eating oat cakes as a snack would be advised.
We would further recommend a handful of nuts a day as a snack and this has been shown to reduce specifically LDL cholesterol. Nuts have many health benefits including reducing the risk of heart disease.
Further recommendations include plant stanols which can be found in foods such as sesame seeds, peanuts, walnuts, almonds and corn oil. They work by pre-venting the absorption of cholesterol in to the gut and as a result reduce the cholesterol in our system. Eating these in moderation is known to reduce blood cholesterol when eaten on a regular basis.
For some people, diet alone may not reduce the amount of cholesterol as much as we would like it to, and this is when we would opt to start medication such as a statin, to help reduce the cholesterol levels further.
It should be noted, if you have other conditions such as diabetes and high blood pressure, the foods and quantity of foods may have to be adapted accordingly.
If you have any queries about your cholesterol or would like further advice on this, please do not hesitate to contact your GP, GP pharmacist, practice nurse or your community pharmacy for further advice.