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Everything you need to know about going on a low-cholesterol diet

Prima (UK) logo Prima (UK) 08/10/2017 Sara D'souza

Getty + Westend61 Getty + Westend61 We hear so much about our cholesterol levels and how important it is to keep them in check, but what exactly is cholesterol? 

Expert Orla Kearney, clinical specialist liver dietician at the Royal Free hospital in London, describes it as 'a type of sticky fat needed to produce the body's building blocks (cells), hormones and vitamins' and quite simply, that we 'cannot live without it'.

'Cholesterol is a fatty substance made naturally by our body in the liver and found in some foods,' she says. 'It is found in foods such as eggs, shellfish and organ meats however these foods do not need to be avoided as dietary cholesterol has very little impact on our blood cholesterol. It is a myth that we need to limit the amount of eggs that we eat.'

Types of cholesterol

Orla explains that cholesterol 'is carried in particles called lipoproteins'. There are two main types of lipoproteins in the body:

  • High Density Lipoprotein (HDL)known as 'good' cholesterol.
  • Low Density Lipoprotein (LDL) (known as 'bad' cholesterol). Too much LDL cholesterol can stick to the inside of our blood vessels.

'Over time the build up of LDL cholesterol can narrow our blood vessels restricting blood flow to the heart,' Orla says. and here is where the problems begin, increasing your risk of heart disease.

© Provided by National magazine company ltd (Hearst UK) How to test your cholesterol level 

It's super easy to work out if your cholesterol is at a safe level with a simple blood test. Orla recommends that the test should be taken 'every five years if you are between the ages of 40 and 75' and 'every 12 months if you are on cholesterol lowering medication'.

'Make sure that you are well hydrated before your test and have eaten normally unless otherwise advised by your doctor or health care professional,' she advises.

The NHS offers free cholesterol tests for certain groups of people. You can get a test:

  • Every 5 years if you are between the ages of 40 and 75
  • Every 12 months if you are on cholesterol-lowering medication
  • Any child of a parent with inherited high cholesterol (FH) – by the age of 10
  • First degree relatives of a person with FH on being told of the risk

Ask your GP or practice nurse to see if you're eligible. Otherwise some pharmacies offer them for a fee cost.

'It is important to get cholesterol checked by a trained professional as home testing kits are not recommended, as they can give inaccurate and misleading results,' says Orla.

© Provided by National magazine company ltd (Hearst UK) What to do if you've been diagnosed with high cholesterol? 

The biggest impact you can have on reducing your cholesterol is immediately lowering your intake of fatty foods. These foods include the vast majority of dairy (butter, full-fat cheese, milk, cream and yoghurt) and also some meat, including sausages.

Processed food goes high on the list of foods to avoid for high cholesterol and those with a sweet tooth beware – chocolate, pastries and biscuits are all on the no-go list.

Other things that can help with immediate effect are stopping smoking, drinking less and taking up more exercise.

'Don't expect to change your lifestyle overnight,' says Orla. 'For most of us that's just not possible.

'Try to identify two or three things you can do now and which you can maintain. Think how they can become a regular part of your lifestyle.

'Once new habits are established try making more changes. Small changes can result in a big difference to your health over time.'

Maintaining a low-cholesterol diet

Dietary changes can have a huge impact. 'A cholesterol-lowering diet can lower cholesterol by 20%' says Orla.

Easy and effective changes to work into your diet include:

  • Eat more oats (we've got some great oat recipes here) because they absorb LDL cholesterol in the body
  • Tea is also fantastic at absorbing LDL, with green teas coming out on top for being rich in anti-oxidants.
  • Adopt a Mediterranean-style diet that is low in saturated fat, high in fibre, low in salt and rich in fruit and vegetables is cholesterol- lowering.

Work it out

In combination with a great diet, Orla says 'studies show combined high intensity and resistance exercise shows improvements in both "good" HDL cholesterol and "bad" LDL cholesterol.'

Related: 5 Foods to Rev Up Your Metabolism (provided by Cooking Light)

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