What is cholesterol?

Cholesterol is a fatty substance which our body makes naturally and is found in some foods. It is carried around the body in our bloodstream by lipoproteins.

The two main lipoproteins are low-density lipoproteins (LDL) and high-density lipoproteins (HDL). HDL cholesterol is known as ‘good cholesterol’ as it helps to prevent cholesterol from building up in the arteries. LDL, on the other hand, is referred to as ‘bad cholesterol’ as it is the main source of cholesterol build-up in the arteries, which can lead to narrowing and blockages.

While we need some cholesterol, too much LDL cholesterol in the blood can lead to heart disease or stroke.

Lifestyle changes to reduce bad cholesterol

While some people will need medications such as statins to help lower cholesterol levels, there are also many lifestyle changes you can make to reduce LDL cholesterol levels or prevent them from becoming high in the first place.

  • Aim for at least five serves of vegetables and two serves of fruit each day – the more colours the better!
  • Replace saturated fats (found in animal foods, palm, and coconut oil) with healthy fats from foods like extra-virgin olive oil, nuts, seeds, avocado, and oily fish.
  • Avoid trans fats found in processed foods such as biscuits, pastries, snack foods, and fried takeaway foods.
  • Increase your intake of soluble fibre from foods such as oats, barley, and legumes.
  • Avoid processed meats, choose only lean cuts of meat and replace some red meat with oily fish and plant proteins such as legumes, tempeh, and tofu.
  • Include a handful of unsalted nuts each day.
  • Replace processed snack foods with healthier options such as fresh fruit, unsalted nuts
  • Consider including plant-sterol enriched food such as spreads, breakfast cereals and milk. Plant sterols are naturally occurring components of all plants which can act to lower cholesterol levels in the blood. They are found in small amounts naturally in foods such as nuts, seeds, legumes, whole grains, fruits, and vegetables, but it is difficult to get the amount you need to have a cholesterol-lowering effect (2-3 grams per day) from natural foods, so if you have high cholesterol, plant-sterol enriched foods can be a useful addition to a heart-healthy diet.
  • Get moving! Regular exercise can also help to lower cholesterol levels. Aim for 30 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise most days, such as walking, cycling, dancing or running.
    If you smoke, quit. Smoking increases heart disease risk in several ways including increasing levels of LDL cholesterol and lowering HDL cholesterol.

For more information:

Visit the Heart Foundation

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