What is Cholesterol?
Cholesterol is waxy, fat-like substance present in all cells of the body. It is made by the liver and can also be found in some foods. It’s an important part of cell membranes and is required for the synthesis of hormones, Vitamin D, as well as substances such as bile acids, which help with the process of digestion.
Cholesterol is transported in the bloodstream by lipoproteins (composed of fats (lipids) and proteins). These can be divided into two types: Low-Density Lipoproteins (LDL) and High-Density Lipoproteins (HDL).
Types of Cholesterol
Also referred to as ‘bad cholesterol’ – this type of cholesterol as the name suggests is low in density, with the tendency to stick to the walls of arteries resulting in the formation of plaque (a thick and hard deposit which reduces the elasticity of the arteries). Once the plaque is formed (a process known as atherosclerosis) it creates resistance in the blood flow, and thus increased blood pressure. If a clot forms and completely blocks an artery either in the heart or the brain it can lead to heart attack or stroke respectively.
Also referred to as ‘good cholesterol’ , is high in density which allows it to scavenge the arteries for LDL cholesterol and help to remove it from the bloodstream, by transporting it to the liver where it’s broken down, and eventually excreted.
Risk Factors Associated with High Blood Cholesterol Levels
There are number of health conditions that can arise as a result of high LDL cholesterol and these include:
- High Blood Pressure
- Coronary Heart Disease
- Heart Attack
- Peripheral Arterial Disease (PAD)
- Type 2 Diabetes
Diet and Lifestyle Adjustments to Help Lower Cholesterol
Reduce and avoid the intake of:
– Fatty and processed meat (such as burgers, sausages, and bacon)
– Full-fat dairy products (such as cream, milk, yoghurt and cheese)
– Hard saturated fats (such as butter, margarine, and lard)
– Pastries, cakes, biscuits, and rich creamy desserts
– Coconut and palm oil
Switch to food products that have been fortified with plant sterols (compounds that help reduce cholesterol absorption), such as Benecol or Flora Pro-activ
Replace the intake of saturated fats (solid at room temperature) with unsaturated (liquid at room temperature) which can be found in vegetable oils such as olive, sunflower, rapeseed, walnut and corn oil
Consume nuts, low-fat dairy products, oily fish such as herring, salmon, trout and moderate amounts of lean meat such as chicken
Avoid fried foods and use grilling, boiling, braising or poaching as cooking methods
Consume high fibre foods such as oats, beans, lentils, peas, chickpeas, fruits and vegetables
Drink plenty of fluids such as water, herbal teas, and fresh juices
Read food labels carefully in order to make more informed choices when shopping
Quit smoking and reduce alcohol consumption
Keep active by exercising daily
Going for a 30-minute walk, cleaning the house, jogging, swimming or dancing are some of the many available options to choose from. Exercise contributes towards helping you lose weight and keep your cardiovascular system healthy
References and Further Reading:
1. Cholesterol and Diet – http://heartuk.org.uk/cholesterol-and-diet
4. Lower Your Cholesterol – http://www.nhs.uk/Livewell/Healthyhearts/Pages/Cholesterol.aspx
5. What is Cholesterol? – http://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/health/health-topics/topics/hbc
6. Diseases Linked to High Cholesterol – http://my.clevelandclinic.org/health/diseases_conditions/hic_Cholesterol/hic_Diseases_Linked_to_High_Cholesterol