Cholesterol is a fatty substance produced by the liver that brings many important health benefits, such as making hormones and building cell membranes. High cholesterol means you have too much of the “bad” cholesterol. This is known as LDL cholesterol. It clings to the inside of arteries, thereby raising the risk of a blockage that can lead to a heart attack. If you have been advised to make dietary changes, there are a number of things to consider.
The NHS says: “If your GP has advised you to change your diet to reduce your blood cholesterol, you should cut down on saturated fat and eat more fibre, including plenty of fruit and vegetables.”
There are two main types of fat, which are saturated and unsaturated. Eating too many foods high in saturated fat can raise the level of cholesterol in your blood. The health body says most people in the UK eat too much saturated fat.
It says to lower your cholesterol levels you should try to replace foods containing saturated fats with small amounts of foods high in unsaturated fats.
These include snacks such as nuts, for example almonds and cashews, or seeds – such as sunflower and pumpkin seeds.
“Your GP might suggest having a test if they think your cholesterol level could be high,” explains the NHS.
According to the health body, this may be because of your age, weight or another condition you have (like high blood pressure or diabetes).There are two ways of having a cholesterol test:
- Taking blood from your arm
- Finger-prick test.
“If you have high cholesterol, a doctor or nurse will talk to you about how you can lower it,” explains the NHS.
This might include things like changing your diet or upping the amount of exercise you do.
There are several foods which are not just part of a healthy diet, they can actively help to lower your cholesterol too.
The optimal approach is to cut down on saturated fat and replace some of it with unsaturated fats, according to cholesterol charity Heart UK.
“Some foods contain cholesterol, but surprisingly they don’t make a big difference to the cholesterol in your blood,” the charity adds.
That’s because most of us eat less than 300mg of cholesterol per day – a small amount compared to the amount of saturated fat we eat.
Reducing the total amount of fat in your diet can also help reduce your risk of heart disease.
Eating plenty of fibre helps lower your risk of heart disease, and some high-fibre foods can help lower your cholesterol.If you’re concerned about your cholesterol, talk to your GP.
If you’re aged 40 to 74, you can get your cholesterol checked as part of an NHS Health Check.
Being more active, and stopping smoking can help get your cholesterol back to a healthy level.
The British Dietetic Association says: “Compare labels and choose foods with green or amber labels for ‘saturates’.”
High cholesterol is often referred to as the “silent killer” because it often does not cause symptoms.
Indeed, a blood test is the only way to detect if you have it.