Your cholesterol is too high. Well, perhaps not specifically you, but thousands of Britons have this news broken to them by doctors every day. We all have an amount of this special type of fat in our blood. It is essential for many bodily functions, but most of us – 60 per cent – have too much.
High cholesterol is a key factor in developing heart disease, which claims three times more lives than breast cancer and twice as many as lung cancer. The good news is that lowering your cholesterol is the biggest thing you can do to reduce your risk.
It’s something TV personality Gabby Logan, for one, is keen to promote. ‘A key risk factor for heart disease is high cholesterol but you can protect yourself with simple changes to lifestyle and diet,’ says Gabby, who is supporting the British Heart Foundation Love Your Heart campaign.
The big six: TV sports presenter Gabby Logan, right, is backing the drive to lower Britain's cholesterol using these six food groups
But just how can you do this? Much of the health advice on the matter, including that on the NHS Eat Well site, is vague, leading to many misconceptions and myths.
So can diet alone be used to bring down high cholesterol – or should we leave it all to statins? The answer for very many people is yes, you CAN reduce your levels significantly through making changes in your diet. Should we stop eating eggs? Aren’t they high in cholesterol? In fact, the answer is no. No food is prohibited, so you can still eat cheese, red meat and chocolate, within the limits of a low-fat diet.
Confusingly, countless foods carry labels claiming they can protect your heart or cut cholesterol. They work, but you have to take them in a specific way to reap the benefits. To find out what we should – and shouldn’t – be eating to lower cholesterol levels, we spoke to leading diet and heart health experts.
Now turn over for our brilliantly simple step-by-step guide – which includes building six food types into your diet – and you may be able to lower your reading by up to 20 per cent in three months . . .
1. SMART FOODS
5. HEALTHY OILS
Q&A 'If cholesterol is so bad, why do we have it?'
Why do we need cholesterol if it can be so bad for our bodies?
Cholesterol is a fatty substance produced by the liver and used to build cell walls, create a protective glove around nerves and to make other chemicals such as hormones.
Cholesterol gets round our bodies by combining with protein to form a protective coating around tiny balls of fat absorbed from our diet – termed lipoproteins. The purpose of this coating is to hold fat together, so we don’t have ‘oil slicks’ of fat in our bloodstream.
The two lipoproteins usually measured are low-density lipoprotein (LDL) and high-density lipoprotein (HDL). LDL is like a juggernaut – big clumps of fat and protein that trundle along the arteries and can only be cleared from our system by the liver. As it travels, fat can break away and enter the artery walls, becoming embedded. This build-up – called atherosclerosis – causes artery walls to narrow so blood cannot get through, resulting in blood clots that can trigger a heart attack or stroke.
HDL is known as ‘good cholesterol’. It is much smaller in size and hoovers up fat deposits from the artery wall as it moves around the body. This is why it’s important to know how much LDL and HDL are in your blood, as the ratio between these two types of fat is what really matters when it comes to risk.
What causes levels to rise?
They are controlled by our genes and diet. In the West, more people have high cholesterol than in countries with a low-fat diet, such as Japan. Eating foods high in saturated fat, such as butter, cream, processed meat such as sausages and fast food, means that our cholesterol goes up.
How is cholesterol measured?
The ratio between LDL and HDL is what matters. A blood test at your GP surgery can measure this. The result gives volume of cholesterol in a measurement called millimoles per litre of blood – or mmol. The target is to have an LDL reading below 3mmol and a total cholesterol reading (which takes into account the HDL and LDL) of 5mmol. People at high risk of heart disease – those with high blood pressure, who are overweight, older and may have family history of the disease – are told to get their total cholesterol lower, to 4mmol, with an LDL of 2mmol. The higher you score, the more chance of suffering heart disease in the next decade. Scores for total cholesterol above 8mmol will mean the person is at medium to high risk of cardiovascular disease (CVD), depending on age and blood pressure. Even a reading of 5 or 6mmol may be too high if you have other risk factors, such as rheumatoid arthritis.
Good news: You do not have to give up on steak, red wine and dessert to lower your cholesterol
How often do I need to get a test?
After the age of 40, your GP should check your cholesterol every five years. If you have a family history of premature heart disease or raised cholesterol, you should tell your GP as soon as possible and would be eligible for tests before the age of 40.
Does a high reading mean I’m going to have a heart attack?
CVD can lead to heart attacks and stroke. It becomes a bigger worry the older you are, if you smoke, have high blood pressure, a family history of heart problems and don’t exercise. It’s the combination of cholesterol with these other things that triggers alarm bells.
Will I need to take statins?
If your total cholesterol is above 5mmol, most doctors will tell you to review your diet. If it is a lot higher, they may tell you to take statins because these drugs are likely to reduce cholesterol by 20 to 40 per cent – a massive drop. Doctors will prescribe statins to anyone with a 20 per cent chance of developing cardiovascular disease in the next decade. They will work out this risk based on a range of personal details. But they will still say you need to improve your diet as well.
So how much can diet alone help?
Diet can reduce cholesterol levels by ten to 20 per cent, which significantly decreases heart-disease risk. Studies show that for the average person, the drop is 13 per cent. For some of us, this may be enough.
How long does it take to work?
To slash cholesterol by as close to 20 per cent as possible, you’ll need to adopt ALL of the healthy eating elements mentioned above for at least three months. If you don’t see changes after three months, talk to your doctor. For some, a healthy diet does not have a great effect. Once your cholesterol has reduced, you’ll have to keep up the good work and stick to your new eating plan.
Read more: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/health/article-2272401/The-foods-cut-cholesterol-just-months--dont-cheese-chocolate-breakfast-egg.html#ixzz2JqzbAoUs
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