Historically cholesterol has been demonised as the main cause of cardiovascular disease. Below are some phrases that may resonate with you;
“All cholesterol is bad for you.”
“I can’t eat foods high in cholesterol.”
Cholesterol is naturally found in the cells of the body and is a waxy fat-like substance. Cholesterol acquired from the diet is commonly found in animal products such as dairy and meat. Consuming too much of the ‘sticky’ cholesterol (LDL) can increase your risk of coronary artery disease. Outlined below are the two main types of cholesterol that we should be focused on.
- Low-Density Lipoprotein (LDL) is considered the boat that transports cholesterol from the liver to the tissues of the body. High levels of LDL cholesterol may lead to a build-up of plaque in the arteries leading to the narrowing of blood vessels, a known cause of heart attacks and strokes (1,2). This type of cholesterol is greater in foods higher in saturated fat such as red meat, processed meat and cheese.
- High-Density Lipoprotein (HDL) is the transportation that takes cholesterol from the blood vessel walls back to the liver for disposal. As a result of the removal of LDL cholesterol, higher levels of HDL are associated with a lower risk of heart disease. Due to the purpose of HDL, it is also referred to as the ‘good’ cholesterol and found in foods such as oily fish and olive oil (Unsaturated fats) (1,2).
Understanding the ratio of LDL to HDL is important to monitor in comparison to the total amount of cholesterol. When being tested for your cholesterol levels, it is common that you will only be given the total overall score. However, knowing the breakdown of the total cholesterol score is an important factor to further understand what a healthy level of cholesterol should be (3).
The below table represents NHS guidelines, however an individual target should be set by your doctor (1).
According to the NHS guidelines, arrange a cholesterol check with your GP if:
- You have not had a test before the age of 40
- You are overweight
- High cholesterol runs in the family
- A history of heart problems runs in the family
General recommendations to improve high cholesterol include monitoring saturated fat intake. Foods that contain high amounts of saturated fat include meat, deep-fried food and processed foods. Maintaining a healthy weight and being active may also contribute to a healthy cholesterol level, whilst monitoring the amount of alcohol you consume (4,5,6).
If you are concerned about your cholesterol please speak to your GP.