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Cholesterol and Heart Disease

Did you know that having high cholesterol can increase your risk of having a heart attack or a stroke?

Cholesterol is naturally found within the body and is used to make hormones and vitamin D. There are two types of cholesterol found in the body and carried around in the blood:

HDL-cholesterol or the “good” cholesterol, and LDL-cholesterol, known as the “bad” cholesterol.

“High cholesterol” is often referred to as increased levels of LDL-cholesterol compared to HDL-cholesterol.

LDL-cholesterol vs HDL-Cholesterol

LDL-cholesterol can stick to the walls of blood vessels and arteries. Raised levels of LDL-cholesterol can increase the risk of heart disease, narrowing blood vessels, chest pain, heart attacks and stroke. HDL-Cholesterol, on the other hand, helps carry excess LDL-Cholesterol from the blood vessel walls to the liver where it can be passed as waste.

High cholesterol is only one risk factor for heart disease

Other risk factors include age, family history, smoking, being overweight or obese, lack of physical activity, and having an unhealthy diet.

Why might my cholesterol be high?

One cause of high LDL-cholesterol is following an unhealthy diet. The overconsumption of fast foods, take-away foods and foods high in saturated fat can contribute to the rise in LDL-cholesterol and increase the risk of developing heart disease. Saturated fats can also slow down the process of removing cholesterol from the body.

Dietary cholesterol is different to the cholesterol found in the body:

Some foods naturally contain cholesterol, for example, eggs, shellfish and dairy products. This is called dietary cholesterol and has a much smaller impact on our blood cholesterol levels and LDL-cholesterol, than previously thought. The largest impacts are found to be caused by the body’s natural response to consuming saturated fats.

What can I do to take care of my health?

  • As high cholesterol can often go unnoticed, it is best to have regular check-ups with your doctor to monitor your cholesterol levels, medications, and other risk factors for heart disease.
  • See a Dietitian to help manage and improve your diet and reduce your risk factors for heart disease.
  • Increasing exercise can help raise HDL-cholesterol levels.
  • Quit smoking.

Following a healthy diet can reduce your risk of heart disease and increase your levels of good cholesterol.

  • Increase your intake of unsaturated fats, including olive oil, avocado and oily fish, which can help raise HDL-cholesterol levels, and in turn, lower LDL-cholesterol levels.
  • Reduce your dietary intake of foods high in saturated fats, including coconut oil, fast food and take-away foods, and processed meats.
  • Increase your dietary intake of fibre, particularly soluble fibre. Choose multigrain or wholegrain breads where possible.
  • Include plant sterols in your diet, such as nuts, legumes, grains, cereals and fortified foods.
  • Follow a Mediterranean diet; rich in fruits, vegetables, lean meats and heart-healthy fats, the Mediterranean diet can reduce the risk of having a heart attack, stoke and heart disease.

The Takeaways:

Having high cholesterol is a risk factor for heart disease and can increase your risk of having a heart attack or stroke. It is important to have regular check-ups with health professionals to help manage your risk of heart disease. Having a healthy diet rich in fruits, vegetables, wholegrains and lean meats can be beneficial for the health of your heart.

If you could use some help when it comes to choosing heart-healthy foods, make an appointment with one of our dietitians. See here for details.

The Heart Foundation have also put together the following animation on cholesterol and heart disease:

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