Cholesterol - what’s the big deal?
Cholesterol is a fatty substance known as a lipid and is crucial for the normal functioning of the body. It is mainly made by the liver but can also be found in some foods we eat. Having an exceptionally high level of lipids in your blood can have an effect on your health and can increase your risk of serious health conditions.
How can you lower your cholesterol level?
If you are concerned about your cholesterol levels, the first thing to do is visit your GP to get it checked.
The second step in reducing cholesterol is to maintain a healthy, balanced diet. It is important to keep your diet low in fatty food, especially food containing saturated fat, and eat lots of fruit, vegetables and wholegrain cereals.
Other lifestyle changes can also make a big difference. It will help to lower your cholesterol if you perform regular exercise and quit smoking.
As a general rule, try and reduce the amount of fat in your diet; grill food instead of frying, substitute vegetable oils in place of lard and butter, substitute low fat in place of full fat and remove the rind of cheese (this will reduce the fat content by half). Try and remove excess fat from meat and eat leaner cuts.
What foods should I eat?
Let's take a look at which foods can help.
Which foods contain high amounts of unsaturated fat?
- oily fish (e.g. mackerel, sardines, trout and salmon)
- nuts (e.g. almonds and cashews)
- seeds (e.g. sunflower, sesame and pumpkin)
- vegetable oils and spreads (e.g. sunflower, olive, corn, walnut and rapeseed oils)
Which foods contain good sources of soluble fibre?
- oats and other whole grains
- lentils and quinoa
- fruit and vegetables – aim to eat five portions a day
Which foods increase HDL (good cholesterol)?
- oily fish
- red wine (no more than two glasses a day)
Which foods contain more antioxidants?
- cabbage and kale
- almonds and brazil nuts
What types of food should I limit?
Now let's take a look at foods you should try to consume less of.
Foods higher in saturated fat
- meat pies
- full-fat milk
- hard cheese
- full-fat yoghurt
- foods containing coconut or palm oil
- cakes and biscuits
- sausages and fatty cuts of meat
Foods higher in dietary cholesterol
Foods higher in trans fat
- some frozen meals
- dairy spreads
- hydrogenated fat (e.g. some processed foods such as biscuits and cakes)
Other ways to help lower cholesterol
1. Watch your portion size
Many restaurant meals and processed foods are getting bigger. Eating more can contribute to weight gain and high cholesterol, so try and practice ‘portion control’.
Make sure at least two-thirds of your plate is made up of vegetables (preferably steamed) and pulses beans or wholemeal rice/pasta or potatoes. The remaining third should be fish, poultry, lean meat, reduced-fat dairy, eggs, tofu or other meat alternatives.
A good way to measure out a portion is to use your hand. Protein like meat, fish or Quorn should be able to fit in the palm of your hand. A serving of vegetables or pasta should be able to fit in your cupped hand and one serving of fruit is about the size of your fist.
2. Move it
Keeping active not only burns calories but it can also keep you healthy and possibly reduce your stress levels. It is recommended that adults do 150 minutes of exercise a week – about 30 minutes a day including muscle strengthening exercises.
Initially, start with something as simple as walking, but do it at a brisk pace. Add in some gardening, energetic housework, playing in the park with the kids or walking the dog.
3. Learn to love labels
Get into the habit of reading labels in the supermarket – how many calories, fat, salt and sugar per portion or per 100g does the food contain? Your daily calories allowance should be no more than 2000 for a woman and 2500 for a man: Fat; 70g for a woman 90g for a man: Sugar; 90g for a woman and 120 for a man and salt for both is no more than 6g – just over a teaspoon.
Watch out, especially for the saturated fat content of food. The daily amounts are 20g for a woman and 30g for a man.
4. Know your BMI
BMI stands for Body Mass Index and gives an indication of whether you're a healthy weight for your height. You should aim to be under 25. There are many apps and websites that can work it out for you
Finally, why not make and enjoy this healthy recipe?
Mixed bean salad with spinach
Serves two as a main meal – 280 calories per serving.
- ½ tin chickpeas
- ½ tin kidney beans
- 3 inch piece of cucumber – chopped
- 2 beef tomatoes (or 8 cherry tomatoes) – chopped
- ½ red pepper – chopped
- 2 spring onions chopped
- ½ red chilli chopped
- handful of chopped fresh herbs – basil, parsley and mint
- 1 tsp lemon juice
- 1 tsp olive oil
- 50g uncooked quinoa
- ½ tsp vegetable bouillon
- handful of fresh spinach leaves
- salt and pepper
Cook the quinoa in water with the bouillon. Mix all the remaining ingredients together. Add in the cooked quinoa. Season with salt and pepper and chill until needed. Then serve on top of the washed fresh spinach leaves.