Check Out Cholesterol – it’s not all bad!

October 1, 2022

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October is National Cholesterol Awareness Month, a good time to look at your lifestyle and see how well you are doing.

October is National Cholesterol Awareness Month and even if you have a healthy diet and lifestyle, it’s worth giving this important substance a few moments thought.

If you focus on the media approach, you could be forgiven for thinking that all cholesterol is bad news, when in fact it is vital for life. This whitish yellow fat is needed by the body as a building block of cell membranes, creating some hormones and in the manufacture of bile acids and vitamin D in the body.

It becomes a danger when we have too much of it and it oxidises, leading to clogged arteries and other heart issues.

Heart UK manage National Cholesterol Awareness Month and their aim is to make people aware of cholesterol and understanding your blood test readings. After all, if we have an understanding of the issue, it is always easier to see what steps we can take to address it.

Did you know, the body manufactures its own cholesterol? Sometimes a body can produce too much usually caused by genetic disorders so will often run in the family. Familial hypercholesterolaemia (FH) is a hereditary condition where the liver cannot process excess cholesterol, so it stays in the blood.

Cholesterol has often been portrayed as all bad news, but it is vital for health too. The issues occur when it oxidises and clogs the arteries making it harder for blood to pump around the body. The food industry has spent the last 40 or so years pushing the low fat agenda and convincing the consumer that foods containing cholesterol or high in fat are bad and we should be buying highly processed low fat foods. The downside is, apart from the food processing, that many low fat foods are very high in sugar.

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Cholesterol is needed for a healthy body, it’s not all bad news.

The current thinking is that foods that we had been previously advised to avoid, such as eggs and butter, are not the dietary baddies they have been promoted as and included as part of a balance diet with plenty of fresh fruit, vegetable and whole grains, they can be a valuable source of nutrients.

What is Cholesterol?

Cholesterol is a waxy whitish-yellow fat that is vital to your health and wellbeing. Excess cholesterol in the bloodstream is well known as the key contributor to the plaque that clogs our arteries, but it is also used as a building block for cell membranes and to manufacture Vitamin D, some hormones and bile acids to help dissolve fats.

The good the bad and the very bad.

If you have a cholesterol test, it is important to discover what is being looked at. Cholesterol appears in various forms in our bodies, so it helps to know which ones are which and what your result means.

Low density lipoprotein (LDL) and Very low density lipoprotein (VLDL) are considered the ‘bad’ forms of cholesterol and too high a level of these can lead to fatty build ups in the arteries and in turn to atherosclerosis and other health conditions.

High density lipoprotein (HDL) is classed as ‘good’ cholesterol as it circulates freely in the body and is used by the body for a number of processes.

The other level that is also measured is your triglyceride level. Triglycerides are a fatty substance similar too cholesterol, too much can again leave you at risk of hear health issues. Triglycerides are mainly manufactured from the food we eat, so adopting a healthy diet can contribute to healthy levels.

Ideally you will have a higher level of HDL over LDL or VLDL and a lower level of triglycerides. This ensure that you are looking after your heart and circulatory health, but also providing the body with the ‘good’ cholesterol that the body needs for function and repair.

Research shows that excessively high cholesterol can increase the risk of cardiovascular disease and as we are living longer, the incidence can increase. So it makes sense to be aware of having a varied diet and taking supplements to support your diet and exercise regime.

Statins are the most prescribed drug in the UK, but not everyone wants to take medication to control cholesterol or to prevent high levels, especially when taking care of what you eat and planning regular exercise, can also play  a role. Supplements can be useful too and can easily be added to a wellness regime.

A healthy cardiovascular system and acceptable cholesterol levels are often considered to be some of the most positive benefits of the Mediterranean diet. Plenty of fresh fruit and veg, oily fish, seeds, nuts, wholegrains, lean meat and healthy fats such as olive oil make up diet that is a good source of nutrients and healthy fats.

Selection of traditional greek food - salad, meze, pie, fish, tzatziki, dolma on wood background, top view

A Mediterranean style diet with regular exercise can help you maintain a healthy cardiovascular system.

If the colder months leave you wanting a warming breakfast, a bowl of porridge is a great way to start the day. Oat bran contains both soluble and insoluble fibre that has been shown to have a positive impact on blood cholesterol levels. Oat bran can also be added to soups and stews to help make warming comfort food better for us.

Oatmeal porridge with blueberries and almonds. Healthy breakfast porridge oats on a wooden table. Closeup view. Clean eating food

If you are feeling the cold and want a warming start to the day, using oats and oat bran to make porridge is an ideal ‘good-for-you’ breakfast.

Supplements can be a useful addition to your wellness plan, especially antioxidants that play a role in protecting cells against oxidative stress and reducing the chances of cholesterol oxidising in the system. Plant based antioxidants such as resveratrol from red grapes—yes, the substance that is present in red wine and believed to have heart health benefits—plus astaxanthin, an antioxidant-rich algae are easily obtainable as supplements.

Co enzyme Q 10 is another well researched compound, it is often used as an antioxidant supplement and has been shown to be beneficial to people that are routinely taking medication such as statins.

There has been much research on the benefits of fish oils providing the essential fatty acids, EPA and DHA. Vegan sources are now available by using certain types of sustainably sourced lichen and these can be taken regularly.

Being aware of cholesterol levels can be a positive way of helping you understand the state  of your cardiovascular health. It can also be a good reminder to check what you are eating and the amount of exercise you are taking. Knowing your numbers, doesn’t have to be a bad thing, it can be a useful tool to let you know you are on the right track or to get you back on the road to a healthy lifestyle. This October, use the opportunity to overhaul your diet and exercise regime and to check out your supplements and keep on track to a healthy you.

Cholesterol isn’t all bad news, it is needed for a healthy body. The important part is maintaining healthy levels with a healthy lifestyle.

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