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Understanding and Managing Your Cholesterol

Maintaining cholesterol at a safe level can help us to live healthier, longer lives.  High cholesterol levels are associated with an increased risk of obesity, cardiovascular disease and cancers. Lowering total cholesterol and LDL (bad) cholesterol levels, as well as increasing HDL (good) cholesterol levels, can reduce the risk of heart disease.

Along with our genetic make-up, our dietary choices have a large influence on our cholesterol levels. The consumption of foods high in saturated fat and trans fats increases cholesterol levels. These types of fats are found in foods such as butter, lard, meat products, biscuits, cakes, chocolate, crisps, coconut oil and palm oil.

Remember: Eating moderate amounts of dietary cholesterol (e.g. from eggs) isn’t associated with increased cholesterol levels.It’s foods high in saturated fat and trans fats you need to cut back on.

Additionally, vitamin C deficiency is associated with increased cholesterol levels.  Many people don’t get the recommended amount of fruits and vegetables in their diet, which contributes to this deficiency and puts them at risk for many conditions, including heart disease. See our 5 a day article for tips on increasing your fruit and veg intake.

In contrast, the body does need good fats that supply essential fatty acids. Foods containing these good fats include oily fish, nuts, seeds, soya products and vegetable oils* and spreads*. These healthy fats carry the fat-soluble vitamins A, D, E and K in the body and have been shown to decrease LDL cholesterol levels and increase HDL cholesterol levels.

*Use vegetable oils and spreads sparingly as they are still high in calories

Eating a diet rich in fruits and vegetables also provides antioxidants that are essential to maintaining healthy cholesterol levels. Furthermore, eating plenty of fibre can help lower your risk of heart disease. High fibre foods include whole grain cereals, fruit and vegetables, beans, peas, lentils, nuts and seeds.

Along with dietary changes, exercise is a key component in managing cholesterol levels.  Regular exercise lowers overall blood cholesterol while increasing the proportion of HDL cholesterol to LDL cholesterol levels.  Exercise reduces stress and anxiety, which are contributing factors to many illnesses and conditions.  It also elevates mood and increases feelings of well-being and decreases anxiety and depression.  Additional stress management techniques such as relaxation and meditation can be a helpful part of a cholesterol management program.

Certain drugs can elevate cholesterol levels, including steroids, high-dose oral contraceptives, diuretics, and drugs to treat Parkinson’s disease. Beta-blockers for high blood pressure can negatively affect the ratio of LDL to HDL cholesterol levels in the blood.  Check with your GP if taking these medications or any other medications that might affect increased cholesterol levels.   There are other supportive therapies that can help to maintain healthy cholesterol levels.