High cholesterol: Nutritionist reveals top prevention tips
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Cholesterol is a fatty substance produced by the liver that brings many important health benefits, such as making hormones and building cell membranes. Indeed, we need some cholesterol to stay healthy, though there are some forms which are considered bad for us. You might need medicine to lower your cholesterol if your cholesterol level has not gone down after changing your diet and lifestyle.
If you’re aged 40 to 74, you can get your cholesterol checked as part of an NHS Health Check.
The British Heart Foundation (BHF) recommends all adults have a cholesterol check at any age, even if they feel completely well. It should be repeated every five years – or more often if the test was abnormal.
The cholesterol blood test measures your levels of total cholesterol, LDL cholesterol, HDL cholesterol, and your total cholesterol to HDL ratio.
Your total cholesterol should be 5mmol/L or less for healthy adults or 4mmol/L or less for those at high risk.
If you have been advised to make dietary changes, there are a number of things to consider and several general rules to follow.
Changing what you eat, being more active, and stopping smoking can help get your cholesterol back to a healthy level.
HEART UK says there are several foods which are not just part of a healthy diet, but they can actively help to lower your cholesterol too.
The organisation says: “Try to eat some of these every day as part of your healthy diet. The more you add them to what you eat, the more they can help lower your cholesterol, especially if you cut down on saturated fat as well.”
It suggests eating foods rich in unsaturated fats, meaning people should cut down on saturated fat and replace some of it with unsaturated fats.
It notes some foods which contain unsaturated fats including:
- Vegetable oils such as olive, sunflower, corn, rapeseed, nut and seed oils
- Avocado, nuts and seeds
- Fat spreads made from vegetable oils, such as sunflower and olive oil
- Oily fish
The charity explains oily fish are a good source of healthy unsaturated fats, specifically a type called omega-3 fats.
It says: “Aim to eat two portions of fish per week, at least one of which should be oily. A portion is 140g, but you could have two or three smaller portions throughout the week.
“Tinned, frozen or fresh all count e.g. salmon, sardines, pilchards, trout, herring and mackerel.”
It adds: “Avoid coconut and palm oil as, unlike other vegetable oils, they are high in saturated fat.”
The Heart and Stroke Foundation of Canada says: “As a rule of thumb, steer clear of highly processed foods, even if they are lower in fat content. Low-fat or diet foods are often loaded with calories, sodium and added sugar.”
It says that it is also a good idea to add more vegetarian options like beans, lentils, tofu and nuts to your weekly meal plans, and “get in the habit of filling half your plate with vegetables and fruit”.
The organisation also explains: “In the last 20 years, the rules on healthy eating have shifted. Super restrictive diets aren’t sustainable or the healthiest choice.”
The NHS outlines a number of other lifestyle changes you may be able to make to lower your cholesterol.
A key one is to cut down on alcohol. You should try to avoid drinking more than 14 units of alcohol a week, and avoid binge drinking. You can ask your GP for help if you are struggling to cut down.
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