What is cholesterol?
Cholesterol is a fatty substance (lipid) that is made in the cells of your body. Many cells make cholesterol, the liver makes about one quarter of the total. Cholesterol helps to build the structure of your body’s cells, make hormones like oestrogen and testosterone, produce vitamin D and is required for your metabolism to work efficiently.
Types of cholesterol
Cholesterol is carried in your blood by proteins, the two combined are called lipoproteins. There are both protective and harmful lipoproteins known as HDL and LDL, or “good” and “bad” cholesterol.
Low-density lipoprotein (LDL - "bad cholesterol"): LDL carries cholesterol from your liver to the cells that need it. If there is too much cholesterol for the cells to use, it can build up in the artery walls, leading to arterial disease.
High-density lipoprotein (HDL - "good cholesterol"): HDL carries cholesterol away from the cells and back to the liver, where it is either broken down or passed out of the body as a waste product.
Cholesterol levels explained
For a healthy adult your cholesterol levels should be:
• TC total cholesterol < 5 mmol
• LDL cholesterol < 3 mmol
• HDL cholesterol >1 mmol for men and 1.2 mmol for women
• TC: HDL ratio < 4 Total cholesterol divided by HDL > 6 is considered high risk.
Diet and Cholesterol
Eating a healthy diet and including certain foods can help to improve your cholesterol levels. Here are some nutrition tips:
• Avoid too much saturated fat:
– High fat meat, better to stick to lean cuts
– Full fat dairy (milk, butter, cream)
– Processed foods (pizzas, fish & chips, burgers, take away)
– Cakes, biscuits, chocolate, ice cream
• Avoid trans and hydrogenated fats - Trans fats have been modified through hydrogenation which can clog your arteries and raise cholesterol. They are mostly found in fried foods, spreads, cookies, crackers & cakes.
• Include good unsaturated fats in your diet:
- Omega-3 fatty acids found in oily fish (Sardines, Mackerel, Herring, Salmon, Tuna),flax seeds and flaxseed oil, seeds (pumpkin, chia, sunflower) and walnuts
- Other unsaturated fats - nuts (unsalted), avocado and olive oil.
These essential fats have, beneficial effects on the HDL:LDL ratio. They regulate cholesterol & promote healing so may help prevent build-up & repair any previous damage.
• Increase fibre – stick to whole grains, snack on vegetable sticks, nuts and hummus, add pulses to soups and stews, have an extra portion of vegetables – fibre helps to remove used cholesterol from the body.
• Increase vegetables – dark green leafy vegetables and yellow, orange and red vegetables provide antioxidants – nutrients which help to reduce oxidation (the normal body process by which energy is made). Oxidation can contribute to atherosclerosis which is the formation of plaque in the arteries. Add finely shredded raw vegetables or lightly steamed vegetables to both lunch and dinner.
If you would benefit from an educational and practical session to build on these nutrition tips then we recommend a Bespoke Cookery Consultation with Jessica, The Nutritional Chef