What do you know about cholesterol? Well, it’s a waxy substance that is made in the body from saturated fat.
The body needs a certain level of good cholesterol to function properly. But people with high levels of cholesterol in their bodies are unable to recycle the cholesterol and it is deposited in their arteries instead.
Guidelines state that the average total cholesterol level should be four or lower. In the UK, the average is 5.7, which is one of the highest in the world.
This is very worrying as cholesterol is the biggest risk factor of heart disease. It’s also responsible for one in every five cases when someone is admitted to hospital.
The target for cholesterol that we aim for in general practise now is four – and there are studies suggesting what it should be even less than this.
It’s essential that you know what the risk factors are and that you visit your GP for a simple test if you are over 50, have been diagnosed with heart disease or stroke, have a family history of early heart disease (that’s a close male relative under 55 or a female relative under 65 who has had heart disease or stroke), have high blood pressure or diabetes, are overweight or obese.
It’s also important to note that people who are a normal weight or underweight can also be at risk of high cholesterol.
Your GP can perform a simple vascular health check. They will assess your risk factor by asking questions about your age, whether you smoke, what your diet is like, how much exercise you do and what your family history is like. They’ll also measure your height and weight, take your blood pressure, gauge what your stress levels are, ask about medication you take and do a blood test to measure cholesterol and blood glucose levels.
If you are diagnosed with high cholesterol, the first method of treatment that your doctor will probably suggest is making changes to your diet and increasing the amount of exercise you do. They will probably suggest that you stop smoking (if you smoke) and keep an eye on your weight.
If the cholesterol levels don’t change after three months, you may be advised to take regular medication.
To help manage a healthy cholesterol level, consider making some of these small lifestyle changes now to lower your risk.
· Eat one or two extra portions of fruit and vegetables every day.
· Reduce your intake of saturated fat. Try replacing butter with olive oil or sunflower spreads. Try chicken or fish instead of fatty red meat. Substitute full fat dairy products like milk, yoghurt and cheese for lower fat varieties. Avoid creamy soups and sauces – vegetable-based soups and tomato sauces are a lot better for you.
The Food Standards Agency suggests that men should have no more than 30g of saturated fat a day and 20g for women – so check food packaging to see how much you’re eating.
· Look at changing the way you cook your food. Grilling, boiling, roasting and poaching are a lot healthier options than frying.
· Include 30 minutes of exercise a day in your normal routine. Try getting off the bus one stop earlier, parking your car a bit further away from work, or walking to the shops at lunchtime.
· If you drink alcohol, try to reduce the amount and stay below the recommended maximum daily intake of three–four units for men and two–three for women.
· If you smoke, talk to your doctor about how they can help you to quit.
· Reduce your portion sizes. Try eating off a smaller plate to trick your brain into thinking you’re eating a lot.
For more information about cholesterol visit heartuk.org.uk.