One of the most serious health concerns affecting people living in the UK is cholesterol. Having a high cholesterol level can put you at increased risk of strokes or heart problems.
If you are concerned about your levels of cholesterol, you can undertake something called a lipid profile test. You can receive a full profile at a special testing clinic, which will give you a complete breakdown of your cholesterol profile and an early indication of potential problems.
Cholesterol and fat
Essentially, there are three main kinds of fat: saturated, unsaturated and trans. Most people consume too much saturated fat, which increases cholesterol levels. Typically, foods such as processed meat, cream, hard cheeses, cakes, cookies and anything that contains coconut oil or palm oil will be rich in saturated fat.
By swapping out saturated fat for unsaturated fat, you will be able to keep your cholesterol levels under control, and you may even be able to lower your levels. Good sources of unsaturated fats include oily fish, seeds, avocados, nuts and vegetable oils.
Trans fats are found naturally in some types of dairy and meat products, but they are mainly found in processed foods such as baked goods in the form of partially hydrogenated oils, which means that products like biscuits and cakes can be high in trans fats. Check the labels on the food you buy to ensure that you are not consuming high levels of trans fats.
In addition to opting for unsaturated fats over saturated fats, you can help to lower your list of high cholesterol foods by preparing your meals differently. Grilling, steaming, poaching, boiling or microwaving is a better option than roasting or frying, and you should also consider choosing lean cuts of meat and lower-fat varieties of dairy foods.
Fibre and cholesterol
By eating a diet rich in fibre, you can reduce your heart disease risk and also help to lower your cholesterol. Adults should aim to consume 30g of fibre every day from a range of sources including fruit and vegetables, pulses, nuts, seeds and wholemeal bread.
Foods containing cholesterol
Some foods are naturally high in what is known as dietary cholesterol. These include kidneys, eggs and prawns, but it may not be necessary to cut down your consumption of these foods, as your consumption of saturated fat is more significant when it comes to cholesterol than the cholesterol that occurs naturally.
Being more active in your daily life is known to have a positive effect on cholesterol. Doing around 150 minutes of moderate aerobic activity each week can significantly improve your cholesterol levels. This can include anything from walking and cycling to running and dancing. As long as you are working up a sweat, you are on the right track!
Specialist cholesterol-lowering products
If a medical professional has advised you to lower your cholesterol by altering your diet, you don’t need to purchase special food products. These products, which can include yoghurts and dairy spreads, contain ingredients such as plant sterols that are said to help reduce the cholesterol in your blood. But there is no evidence that they are effective at decreasing an individual’s risk of suffering a heart attack or a stroke.
These products are not recommended by doctors, and it is far more effective to make simpler, less expensive changes such as eating a more healthy, balanced diet and getting active. In addition, specialist foods are not suitable for many people, including breastfeeding women.
Statins are a class of drugs that can be effective in helping to lower cholesterol. They are usually prescribed to patients who have been diagnosed with a cardiovascular condition such as coronary heart disease or who have a significant personal or family history of cardiovascular problems and are thought to be at risk.
Some drugstores sell low-dose statins, but unless you are at direct risk of heart problems as determined by your doctor, the best way to tackle cholesterol is to make lifestyle changes.
There is no doubt that cholesterol is a serious problem in the UK and throughout the developed world, as people consume too much saturated fat and become more sedentary. The problem is exacerbated by sometimes confusing scientific advice and by companies attempting to market ‘cholesterol-reducing foods.’
The good news is that by making simple dietary and lifestyle changes, you can help control and lower your own cholesterol. By taking appropriate medical advice, eating a healthy diet and getting physically active, you can dramatically reduce your risk of suffering any of the health problems associated with high levels of cholesterol.