Dylan Bowe | Last Updated – 30/12/2023 | 4 Minute Read
Cholesterol is a type of fat found in your blood and every cell in our body, forming a key
component of cell membranes, and we need a certain amount of it for normal functioning in
the body and to produce adequate amounts of important hormones. However, if there is
too much cholesterol in our blood, it leads to plaque build-up in our artery walls – known as
atherosclerosis. Atherosclerosis is the main cause of cardiovascular disease, such as angina,
stroke and heart attacks. If an artery supplying the heart muscle becomes blocked
completely, the heart muscle becomes damaged and this is known as a heart attack. If an
artery is the brain is completely blocked, it damages the brain and this is known as a stroke.
There are two types of cholesterol – HDL (high density lipoprotein) and LDL (low density
lipoprotein). LDL travels from your liver through your arteries to other parts of the body,
and this type of cholesterol is often called ‘bad cholesterol’ because it sticks to the walls in
the arteries. However, HDL is often called the ‘good cholesterol’ because it mops up
cholesterol left behind in your arteries and carries it to your liver where it is broken down
and passed out of the body. regular physical activity can help increase your HDL levels, while
eating too many foods high in saturated fat can raise your LDL levels.
It is extremely important to monitor your cholesterol levels of a routine basis, as high
cholesterol usually does not have any symptoms, and you usually only find out you have it
through a blood test from a healthcare professional. What a good target level for your
cholesterol depends of factors such as your age, if you have any health conditions and your
risk of cardiovascular disease, however for healthy adults a healthy total cholesterol level is
below 5mmol/L, with HDL being > 1mmol/L for men or 1.2mmol/L for women, and non HDL
cholesterol being < 4mmol/L.
The level of cholesterol in your blood is affected by the amount of saturated fats you eat in
your diet every day. This is arguably the biggest and most important modifiable factor when
it comes to high cholesterol and controlling your intake of saturated fat should lead to
positive results quite quickly. Along with this, there are other factors that increase your risk
of high cholesterol:
- Drinking large amounts of alcohol
- Being overweight or obese
- Lack of exercise
- Kidney or liver disease
- Family history of heart disease/stroke
There are a number of things you can do to lower or prevent high cholesterol:
Lower your saturated fat intake (less than 10% of daily calories from sat fat), this
includes sources such as butter, cream, fatty meat, cheese, biscuits, chocolate and
Include monounsaturated fat sources such as cashews, almonds, olive oil, avocados,
as these can help lower LDL cholesterol.
- Eat fish twice weekly including one oily fish, to increase polyunsaturated fat (omega 3 and omega 6).
- Increase fibre intake – aim to increase your fruit and veg intake, and include more wholegrain cereals, breads, pastas and rice.
- Choose lean meat sources
- Lose weight, aiming to reach a healthy range, as being overweight means your heart has to work harder to pump blood around the body
- Be more active – aiming to reach the current guidelines of 150min moderate intensity exercise/week
By embracing these simple changes, making informed choices in your diet and lifestyle, you
can reduce the risk of developing/healthily manage high cholesterol. Doing this as early as
you can in life is the best choice, and if you do have high cholesterol, we can help. Consider
it an investment in your future self.