Cholesterol is a type of fat that is carried in the blood but too much of it is a strong risk for coronary heart disease and can damage your arteries 3. All cells in the body need cholesterol for internal and external membranes, it is also needed to produce some hormones such as oestrogen, testosterone and adrenal hormones, it helps your metabolism work efficiently and produces bile acids which help the body digest fat and absorb important nutrients.
What do the Liproteins do?
Because fats aren’t soluble in water Cholesterol needs little transporters called lipoproteins to transport the cholesterol through the bloodstream. There are two types of lipoproteins in the body:
The Bad Cholesterol: LOW DENSITY LIPOPROTEIN (LDL)
Causes your arteries become blocked and increase risk of heart disease
LDL cholesterol levels should be <2.0mmol/L1
The Good Cholesterol: HIGH DENSITY LIPOPROTEIN (HDL)
Helps protect arteries from a build up of fatty deposit, decreases heart disease risk
HDL cholesterol levels should be >1.0mmol/L1
Why is high cholesterol a problem?
The liver is the central hub for processing cholesterol and fats in our diet. When we eat animal fats the liver transports the fats together with the cholesterol in the form of lipoproteins into our bloodstream. When we have too much cholesterol bound to LDL in our bloodstream, this leads to fatty deposits in the arteries, causing the vessel to narrow and eventually become blocked.
This is why high cholesterol is one of the main risk factors for coronary heart diseases such as heart attacks and angina. This means, that if your cholesterol level is 6.5mmol/L or higher, the risk of having heart disease is four times greater than someone with a cholesterol level of 4mmol/L3.
What causes high cholesterol?
There are 4 main PREVENTABLE reasons that can affect blood cholesterol:
Diet: Consuming foods that are high in saturated fat and trans-fats increases your cholesterol levels. Foods with cholesterol in them also play a small part. By reducing the amount of these foods you consume, you can subsequently reduce the amount of cholesterol in your blood.
Weight: Being overweight is a risk factor for heart disease and cholesterol. Loosing weight can assist in lowering your LDL and total cholesterol levels, increase your HDL cholesterol levels and lower your triglycerides.
Smoking: tobacco smoking is also a contributing factor to increase your triglyceride levels.
Exercise: moving your body can reduce your risk of heart disease, so get outside and get active
So do I just have to eat less foods containing cholesterol then?
Your body can produce all the cholesterol it needs by itself. Foods that are high in cholesterol are also high in saturated fats, which mostly come from all the classic “unhealthy foods” such as chips and baked treats, but also animal products such as red meat, chicken, eggs and dairy products. To reduce the cholesterol in your diet, aim to consume more plant foods, as foods from plants do not contain any cholesterol.
So What Should I Do If I have High Cholesterol?
The best way to lower your LDL (BAD) cholesterol levels is to reduce the amount of SATURATED (BAD) fat you consume.
So here are some easy tips to reduce the cholesterol in your diet:
Limit cakes, biscuits, pastries
Choose reduced fat/low fat milk and dairy products such as cheese and yogurt or swap to plant based milk alternatives: soy, rice and almond milks (ensure these have added calcium)
Increase the amount of fresh fruit, vegetables and whole grains you eat each day
Include foods that are rich in soluble fibre and healthy fats such as nuts, legumes and seeds
Use polyunsaturated or monounsaturated margarine/oils instead of butter
Choose lean cuts of meat and remove visible fat, limit fatty meats such as sausage, salami and ham.
Loose weight if overweight
Why we should eat more plants to lower our cholesterol
It has also been found that oats and legumes can lower LDL cholesterol by five per cent and saponins, a food component found in chickpea and alfalfa sprouts and sulphur compounds, like allicin found in garlic and onions also assist in lowering cholesterol. Plant sterols can also lower cholesterol levels. These are found in foods such as sunflower and canola seeds, vegetable oils, nuts, legumes, cereals, fruits and vegetables.
What are Triglycerides?
Triglycerides are simply another type of fat found in the blood, which too can increase your risk of heart disease. If your triglyceride levels are higher than 10, this can cause an inflammation of the pancreas which is a very serious condition.
To lower your triglycerides you can:
Reduce excess weight
Drink alcohol in moderation (alcohol strongly increases triglyceride levels)
Reduce the amount of refined starchy foods and sugary drinks in your diet