The ins and outs of cholesterol

High levels of the wrong kinds of cholesterol in the blood may increase the risk of developing heart disease. A healthy diet can help to lower your risk of high cholesterol.

Cholesterol has many important functions in the body, including:

  • Producing hormones
  • Being part of the cell walls in the body
  • Producing bile acid.

Even though cholesterol is essential for the body, having high levels of the wrong type of cholesterol in the blood increases heart disease risk.

Factors which may increase your risk of developing high blood cholesterol levels

What is the difference between LDL and HDL cholesterol and what does it mean for me?

Cholesterol is a type of fat.  Proteins called lipoproteins help move cholesterol around our blood.

The two main types of lipoproteins are:

·         LOW DENSITY LIPOPROTEIN (LDL)

  • The ‘unhealthy’ cholesterol
  • Lead to blocked arteries and risk of heart disease
  • Current recommendations are to keep LDL cholesterol levels to <2.0mmol/L and <1.8mmol/L if at higher risk.

·         HIGH DENSITY LIPOPROTEIN (HDL)

  • The ‘healthy’ cholesterol
  • Helps protect arteries from a build-up of fatty deposits and helps decrease heart disease risk
  • HDL cholesterol levels are recommended to be >1.0mmol/L.

The total level of cholesterol in the blood is a combination of HDL (healthy) cholesterol and LDL (unhealthy) cholesterol. When having your cholesterol tested, ask your doctor to check both your HDL and LDL cholesterol. A low level of HDL cholesterol and a high level of LDL cholesterol in the blood will put you at risk of heart disease.

Healthy eating to lower cholesterol

People with a high level of LDL cholesterol in the blood may be able to reduce their cholesterol levels by:

  • Eating foods that are low in saturated fat
  • Limiting foods that have a high saturated fat content (such as many biscuits, cakes and fatty take-away foods)
  • Replacing saturated fats in the diet with mono- or poly-unsaturated fats (such as using olive oil and avocado instead of butter)
  • Eating some foods with poly-unsaturated and mono-unsaturated fat (such as nuts, avocados and oily fish)
  • Including more fibre-rich foods in your diet such as fruit, vegetables and wholegrain bread and cereals.

Keeping active is also an important part of keeping cholesterol levels healthy. Try to be physically active for 30-60 minutes each day.

A note on dietary cholesterol

We once thought that eating too many cholesterol-rich foods (such as eggs) was the main cause of high cholesterol. But we now know that eating too much of foods high in saturated fats is more of a problem, and this has more impact on blood cholesterol levels.

A note on triglycerides

Triglycerides are a measure of the amount of fat moving around the blood. They are often measured along with your blood cholesterol levels. The dietary recommendations to help lower your blood cholesterol will also help lower your triglyceride levels, with the aim of keeping levels <2.0mmol/L.

Some other changes that may help to lower triglyceride levels include:

  • Drinking less alcohol
  • Consuming less refined flour products (like cakes and biscuits) and sugar-containing food and drinks.
An Accredited Practising Dietitian (APD) can help you to identify and make dietary and lifestyle changes to assist with cholesterol lowering.