High cholesterol: Nutritionist reveals top prevention tips
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It is often caused by eating fatty food or being overweight and occurs when you have too much of a fatty substance called cholesterol in your blood. We need some cholesterol to stay healthy, though there are some forms which are considered bad for us.
There are two main types of fat, which are saturated and unsaturated. Eating too many foods high in saturated fat can raise the level of cholesterol in your blood.
The NHS says most people in the UK eat too much saturated fat.
The American Heart Association says that in general, red meats (such as beef, pork and lamb) have more saturated fat than skinless chicken, fish and plant protein, and can raise your blood cholesterol and increase your risk of heart disease.
Eating plenty of fibre helps lower your risk of heart disease, and some high-fibre foods can help lower your cholesterol.
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The British Dietetic Association (BDA) notes “a few small changes to your diet can make a big difference to your cholesterol level” and there are a number of “smart swaps” you can make.
It says: “To help lower your cholesterol you don’t need to avoid fats altogether.
“You should cut down on foods high in saturated fat and replace them with food high in unsaturated fat like vegetable oils (olive, rapeseed and sunflower oil), nuts, seeds, avocado and oily fish.”
It also advises people compare labels and choose foods with green or amber labels for ‘saturates’.
It says: “Foods are high (red) in saturated fat if they contain more than 5g of saturates per 100g. Foods containing 1.5g or less per 100g are low (green) in saturated fat.
“Some healthy foods that are high in fat like oily fish, nuts and oils, may be red for saturated fat. This is okay, as they contain more of the healthy unsaturated fat.”
If you’re aged 40 to 74, you can get your cholesterol checked as part of an NHS Health Check.
The British Heart Foundation (BHF) recommends all adults have a cholesterol check at any age, even if they feel completely well. It should be repeated every five years – or more often if the test was abnormal.
You may also need to take medicines to lower your cholesterol. Statins are the most common medicine for high cholesterol, according to the NHS. Statins work by reducing the amount of cholesterol your body makes.
The NHS says: “Like all medicines, statins can cause side effects. But most people tolerate them well and do not have any problems.
“You should discuss the benefits and risks of taking statins with your doctor before you start taking the medicine.”
The NHS lists five types of statin available in the UK, including atorvastatin, fluvastatin pravastatin, rosuvastatin and simvastatin.
The BHF says: “Statins are the first-line preventive treatment in people with high cholesterol and are safe and effective for most of the population.”
It adds that NHS England is currently reviewing whether high-dose statins can be made available directly from pharmacists.
The cholesterol blood test measures your levels of total cholesterol, LDL cholesterol, HDL cholesterol, and your total cholesterol to HDL ratio.
Your total cholesterol should be 5mmol/L or less for healthy adults or 4mmol/L or less for those at high risk.
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