October is National Cholesterol Month, but what is cholesterol?
Cholesterol is an important fatty substance or lipid that is essential for our body. Typically, the liver creates this substance, though it can also be found in certain foods.
While cholesterol is essential for overall health and well-being, high cholesterol can increase the risk of cardiovascular diseases, such as stroke and heart disease.
If you are diagnosed with high cholesterol, there are a number of small, simple lifestyle changes that can help. Before making any drastic changes, contact your GP.
Exercising regularly can help lower your cholesterol levels – in fact, as little as 150 minutes of moderate exercise per week has been proven to improve cholesterol. Choose an exercise you enjoy and it won’t seem like a chore – take a walk in the evenings after work, cycle around the park, go swimming or join a new class!
Quitting smoking can help improve high-density lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol levels, as well as lowering your blood pressure and reducing the risk of heart attack and heart disease.
Eating a balanced diet can help lower cholesterol. There are certain foods that naturally help to lower cholesterol in the body and vegetables and plant-based foods should regularly feature in your meals. Foods that naturally help to lower cholesterol include:
- oat cereals and porridge
- mango, citrus fruits, turnip, sweet potato, aubergine
- soya milk and yoghurt
- kidney beans, butter beans, chickpeas and lentils
- almonds, walnuts, pecans, cashew nuts, peanuts and pistachios
Foods that are high in saturated fat can contribute to high cholesterol, though research has shown that reducing saturated fat and swapping for foods with more unsaturated fat can improve levels of cholesterol in the body. Foods high in saturated fat include butter and lard, fatty meat such as sausages, full-fat cheese, milk, cream and yoghurt and coconut oils. Chocolate, cakes, pastries and sugar biscuits often include these ingredients so be sure to check the label.
Finding a nutritionist can also help you on your wellness journey. They can help you understand more about cholesterol levels in the body and what you can do to lower them. A nutrition professional can work with you to create a cholesterol diet tailored to you, as well as a personal exercise plan and regular sessions to keep track of your progress and keep you motivated.