Heart and circulatory disease still kills more than one in four people a year in the UK.1
The good news is you can greatly reduce your chances of developing these diseases by making some small and simple changes to your life.
One important way of reducing your risk for heart disease and stroke is by finding out about your cholesterol numbers and taking steps to keep them in check.2-4
What is cholesterol?
Cholesterol is a waxy substance needed by every cell in your body. You might be surprised that very little cholesterol is actually found in foods. Most is made in the liver from fat in the foods we eat.2
Cholesterol is transported around your body in your blood, attached to proteins. These combinations of cholesterol and proteins are called lipoproteins and there are two main types2,3:
- “Bad” cholesterol (low-density lipoproteins or LDL). High LDL levels increase your risk of heart disease and stroke by causing your blood vessels to become narrowed by fatty deposits, making it harder for the blood to flow to areas where it is needed.
- “Good” cholesterol (high-density lipoproteins or HDL). Higher HDL levels decrease your risk of heart disease and stroke by helping to remove cholesterol from your circulation.
Know your levels
You can find out about your cholesterol levels by having a simple blood test performed by a doctor or health professional. You will normally be given a value for your levels of total cholesterol, LDL and HDL, measured in units called millimols per litre (mmol/l).
Your should aim for3:
- a total cholesterol level below 5 mmol/l
- a LDL level below 3 mmol/l
- a HDL level above 1 mmol/l
Nearly half of adults in the UK are estimated to have over the recommended level of total cholesterol.1
If you have other risk factors for heart disease and stroke, such as high blood pressure, diabetes or smoking, it is even more important for you to keep your levels of bad cholesterol as low as possible.
Watching your cholesterol
There are three key things you can do to control your cholesterol levels4,5:
1) Eat a healthy, low-fat balanced diet.
2) Do some activity – the more the better. But aim for at least 30 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise, 5 days a week.
3) Maintain a healthy weight. Eating healthily and exercising regularly are the best ways to achieve this.
Try these diet tips to keep your cholesterol levels heart healthy4,5:
- Try to cut down on the total amount of fat in your diet; read the food labels when you’re doing your shopping to find out how much and what type of fat different products contain.
- Limit your intake of foods high in saturated fat like butter, hard cheese, red meats, cakes and biscuits.
- Remember not all fats are bad – replacing saturated fats with unsaturated fats can actually help to lower your levels of bad cholesterol. Try eating more oily fish (ideally twice a week), avocado, nuts, seeds, and sunflower, olive and rapeseed oils and spreads.
- You should try to get most of your energy from starchy foods like rice, potatoes and pasta.
- Eat a high-fibre diet that’s rich in fruits, vegetables and pulses (such as beans and lentils) – try to eat at least five portions a day.
- Wholegrain foods like wholemeal bread, brown rice and wholegrain breakfast cereals are also high in fibre and will keep you feeling full for longer.
- Cut down on the amount of salt you eat. Avoiding adding salt to your cooking and your plate is a good start; you can use herbs and spices to add flavour instead. Try to go for low-salt options in the supermarket by reading the food labels.
There is some evidence that eating specially developed functional foods or nutraceuticals, can lower your level of bad cholesterol by decreasing the amount that is absorbed by your body.5 If you’re thinking of trying one of these products, have a chat to your doctor to see if they might be of benefit to you.
If you don’t know your cholesterol levels, why not take a big step forwards for your heart health today by making an appointment to get them checked? No matter what your age or weight, it’s important to know your numbers.
- BHF Statistics Factsheet UK – December 2019. British Heart Foundation. https://www.bhf.org.uk/what-we-do/our-research/heart-statistics. Visited 9 January 2020.
- High Cholesterol - Causes, Symptoms & Treatments. British Heart Foundation. https://www.bhf.org.uk/informationsupport/risk-factors/high-cholesterol. Visited 9 January 2020.
- Cholesterol Levels - High cholesterol. National Health Service (NHS). https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/high-cholesterol/cholesterol-levels. Visited 9 January 2020.
- Lower your cholesterol. National Health Service (NHS). https://www.nhs.uk/live-well/healthy-body/lower-your-cholesterol. Visited 9 January 2020.
- Cicero AFG, Colletti A, Bajraktari G, et al. Lipid lowering nutraceuticals in clinical practice: position paper from an International Lipid Expert Panel. Arch Med Sci. 2017;13(5):965–1005. doi:10.5114/aoms.2017.69326