Cholesterol may be the greatest enemy to the health of our heart and blood vessels - but it’s also essential to life.
A whitish, waxy fat or lipid, cholesterol can be found throughout the body's blood and tissues, the function of cholesterol in the body includes;
- Production of hormones - part of the cell walls in the body
- Production of bile acid in the liver - which aid in digestion in the small intestine etc.
High levels of the wrong kinds of cholesterol in the blood may increase the risk of developing heart disease. However, a healthy diet can help to lower your risk of high cholesterol (note)
Factors which may increase your risk of developing high blood cholesterol levels Includes;
- Eating excess amounts of foods rich in saturated fat.
- A family history of high cholesterol
- Being overweight.
Cholesterol is a type of fat and (like all fats) is not soluble in water. Lipoproteins are biochemical assembly that contains both proteins and lipids. It helps transport cholesterol in the bloodstream (as blood is water-based).
The two main types of Lipoproteins are:
1. LOW DENSITY LIPOPROTEIN (LDL)
This is known as the ‘bad’ cholesterol. It contributes to blocked arteries and risk of heart disease. It's current recommendations is to keep LDL cholesterol levels to <2.0mmol/L if at risk of heart disease.
2. HIGH DENSITY LIPOPROTEIN (HDL)
This is known as the ‘good’ cholesterol. It helps protect arteries from a build-up of fatty deposits and helps decrease heart disease risk. HDL cholesterol levels are recommended to be >1.0mmol/L.
The total level of cholesterol in the blood is a combination of HDL (good) cholesterol and LDL (bad) cholesterol. When having your cholesterol tested, kindly ask your doctor to check both your HDL and LDL cholesterol. A low level of HDL cholesterol and a high level of LDL cholesterol in the blood will place you at risk of heart disease.
A note on Triglycerides, they are blood fats related to cholesterol and have assumed increasing importance as a cardiovascular risk factor. Among other things, high level of triglycerides are now regarded as strong and independent predictor of the future risk of a heart attack especially when total cholesterol levels are also high. The dietary recommendations to help lower your blood cholesterol will also help lower your triglyceride levels.
HEALTHY EATING HABITS TO REDUCE CHOLESTEROL
People with a high level of LDL cholesterol in the blood may be able to reduce their cholesterol levels by:
- Having more fibre-rich foods in your diet such as fruit, vegetables and whole grain bread and cereals.
- Eating foods that are low in saturated fat.
- Reducing intake of foods that have a high saturated fat content (such as many fatty cuts of meat, biscuits, cakes and fatty take-away foods)
- Replacing saturated fats in the diet with mono- or poly-unsaturated fats (such as using olive oil instead of butter)
- Eating some foods with poly-unsaturated and mono-unsaturated fat (such as nuts, avocados and oily fish)
- Low intake of foods rich in cholesterol.
It was once thought that eating too many cholesterol-containing foods (such as eggs) was the major dietary cause of high blood cholesterol level. But, we now know that eating large amounts of foods containing saturated fats is a bigger problem and has a much greater influence on blood cholesterol levels.
NOTE: Keeping active is also an important part of keeping cholesterol levels healthy. Try to be physically active for 30-60 minutes each day.