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Christina Merryfield, Lead Dietitian, Bupa Cromwell Hospital.
High cholesterol is a silent killer. It doesn’t have symptoms and many people are unaware they have it. If left untreated, having high cholesterol increases your risk of heart disease and stroke. However, the good news is that it can be easily detected by simple tests and there are steps you can take significantly lower it.
Cholesterol is a type of fat found in your blood. It plays an essential role in how every cell in your body works. There are two main types of cholesterol.
- Low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol (‘bad’ cholesterol). High levels of LDL cholesterol can lead to atherosclerosis. This is a process in which fatty deposits build up on the walls of your arteries, which can reduce or block the blood flow in your arteries.
- High-density lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol (‘good’ cholesterol). This carries excess cholesterol out of your blood to your liver, where it’s processed and removed from your body.
If you have high levels of LDL cholesterol and low levels of HDL cholesterol, you are at high risk of heart problems.
A common cause of high blood cholesterol levels is eating too much saturated fat. Saturated fat is found in foods such as butter, lard, cream, pastries, pies, sausages and bacon. Unsaturated fats, however, are healthier fats that can be beneficial for your heart and help improve cholesterol levels alongside a healthy diet and lifestyle. Unsaturated fat is found in vegetable, seed and nut oils, such as sunflower, olive and corn oil, spreads based on these oils, nuts and oily fish.
People often ask if eating eggs is bad for your cholesterol. The cholesterol found eggs, as well as liver, kidneys and some types of seafood, doesn’t usually increase the level of cholesterol in your blood. It's much more important that you eat a diet that is low in saturated fat.
Making small changes to your diet can help lower your cholesterol. Try the food swap suggestions below.
- Swap butter on bread or toast with olive oil or sunflower spread.
- Swap fatty cuts of meat, sausages and burgers for lean cuts of meat, such as chicken or turkey breast, or fish. Aim to have fish at least once a week, one being from a oily variety, such as salmon or mackerel.
- Use turkey mince or soya mince instead of beef mince for dishes such as lasagne and cottage pie.
- Snacks on nuts, dried fruit and fresh fruit instead of pastries, cakes or biscuits.
- Swap full fat cheese, cream, milk and yoghurts for low fat alternatives.
- Go for chunky vegetable soups instead of cream soups.
- Use filo pastry for pies and savoury snacks instead of puff pastry.
- Swap ice cream for sorbet or low-fat frozen yogurt.
- Swirl plain fat-free yogurt into your chilli con carne instead of sour scream.
The way you choose to cook your food can also make a huge difference. Swap frying food for grilling, boiling or poaching. Also, trim excess fat off fatty meats, such as bacon or steaks.
There are other things you can do that help lower cholesterol, such as keeping physically active and maintaining a healthy weight. Speak to your GP if you’re concerned about your cholesterol or diet. He or she can measure your cholesterol level with a simple blood test.
- Do you have any healthy food swaps you can share? Comment below.
- Have any healthy recipes you want to share? Post them in the healthy recipe forum and you could win a month of veg boxes delivered to your door.
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