A change in diet can help lower cholesterol levels and maintain a state of optimal health.
Cholesterol is waxy substance found in the blood. Your body needs cholesterol for various functions, including building cell walls, hormone and bile production and to make vitamin D from sunlight.
Cholesterol is produced by your liver and also comes from the foods you eat. Dietary cholesterol is found in foods from animal sources. Foods that are high in saturated and trans fats can cause an over-production of cholesterol in the liver, subsequently raising cholesterol levels in your blood.
Low Density Lipoprotein (LDL) is bad cholesterol. Too much LDL cholesterol in your blood can lead to a build-up inside your arteries. High Density Lipoprotein (HDL) is good cholesterol and beneficial to the body. It helps to move excess cholesterol to the liver where it can be broken down and will even remove some cholesterol build-up on the artery walls. Triglycerides are fats carried in the blood.
High cholesterol, called hyperlipidaemia, is a risk factor for coronary artery disease, heart attack and stroke. Plaque, a combination of calcium, fat, cholesterol and other substances, builds up on the artery walls and hardens over time, resulting in a narrowing of the arteries, called atherosclerosis.
Symptoms: There are no symptoms for high cholesterol – you will need to take a test to check your levels.
Cholesterol screening: You can take a finger-prick test at your local pharmacy clinic. This reading provides the Total Cholesterol Level and does not split levels of HDL or LDL cholesterol in your blood. The total level should be less that 5 mmol/L.
If the finger-prick test is elevated, you will be asked to have a diagnostic blood test, called a lipogram test, where the lab will determine separate levels for HDL, LDL and triglycerides. You will be asked to fast for eight hours prior to the test.
Interpreting results: LDL levels should be less than 3 mmol/L and HDL levels should be more than 1.00 mmol/L for men and 1.2 mmol/L for women. Fasting triglyceride levels should be less that 1.7 mmol/L.
If you are over the age of 20, have your cholesterol levels checked. If levels are normal, the test can be repeated in four or five years. If you have a high risk of heart disease, are overweight, or have high blood pressure, diabetes or kidney disease, you should have your levels checked annually.
Changes To Make In Your Diet
By making changes to your diet you can help reduce high LDL levels. Depending on your individual diagnosis, your doctor may also prescribe medication.
- Cut down on saturated and eliminate trans fats
Start reading food labels to reduce your intake of saturated fats (found in meats, full-fat dairy products etc.) as these can increase your LDL levels. Eliminate trans fats found in bread spreads, baked goods and deep-fried foods. Skip spreads on bread, choose a salad or vegetables over French fries and remove all visible fat on meat before cooking. Grill fish instead of deep frying it in batter.
- Add healthy fats to your diet
Mono- and polyunsaturated fats are good fats for the body. Sources include nuts, avocado, fish, seeds and peanut butter. Choose unsalted nuts without sugary coatings.
- Get enough fibre
Soluble fibre helps to lower LDL cholesterol. Sources include beans, lentils, oats, vegetable and fruits. Eat at least five portions of fresh vegetables and fruit per day. Choose whole-grain cereals.
- Add Omega 3 and 6 fatty acids
These fatty acids don’t have an effect on LDL cholesterol but may help to raise HDL levels. Salmon, walnuts, tuna (fresh or canned) and flaxseeds are good sources.
- Limit your intake of alcohol
Alcohol won’t raise your cholesterol, but it adds energy to your diet, which can lead to weight gain. Being overweight can increase LDL levels and lower HDL levels. If you consume too much alcohol, your risk of heart disease increases as it has an effect on blood pressure and triglyceride levels. Men should have no more than two alcoholic drinks per day and one for women.