More than five million Australians have high cholesterol — so chances are you, or someone you know, is affected. Luckily, simple diet and lifestyle changes can stop it in its tracks.
High cholesterol raises your risk of heart disease, so it’s not something you can ever bury your head in the sand about. The good news is you can do plenty to lower your risk — so here’s what you need to know.
What is it?
Cholesterol is a waxy, white substance that travels through your blood. It has often had negative connotations, but cholesterol performs many important functions too. For example, it’s vital to the structure of your cells. Too much cholesterol, however, can be detrimental to your cardiovascular health.
There are a two main types of cholesterol:
‘Bad’ LDL cholesterol, which can eventually clog and harden your arteries
‘Good’ HDL cholesterol, which removes LDL cholesterol from your bloodstream.
Am I at risk?
There are several risk factors for high cholesterol — many of which you can easily change. They include:
High intake of saturated fats, such as butter, cream, processed meat and deep-fried foods
Insufficient intake of healthy fats, like avocado, salmon and nuts
Low intake of fibre from fruit, vegetables and whole grains
To a lesser extent, cholesterol from foods like offal and eggs
Being overweight and/or inactive -Plus, your age, gender, ethnic background and family history all affect your risk of heart disease; but although these are things you can’t change, there are plenty you can!
How to reverse it
Go for healthy fats
Saturated fat from some foods like butter, fried foods, muffins, pastries and biscuits can send your cholesterol skyrocketing. So it’s important to reduce your intake and include small amounts of good fats instead. Drizzle olive oil over a salad, enjoy oily fish such as salmon for dinner once or twice a week, and swap butter for a quarter of an avocado on a piece of wholegrain toast.
Eat more fibre
In particular, eat soluble fibre, as it binds to cholesterol in your digestive tract and hampers its ability to be reabsorbed. Good sources include oats, psyllium husk, grainy bread, legumes, vegies, fruit, nuts and seeds.
Include plant sterols
Plant sterols inhibit the absorption of cholesterol in the bowel. They’re found naturally in small amounts in leafy green vegetables, nuts and vegetable oils, but are also added to foods like table spreads, milk and cereal. Studies have shown that plant sterols can help reduce cholesterol by as much as 10 per cent.
Move for 30 minutes a day
Not only will regular exercise improve your fitness, reduce your risk of diabetes and boost your mental health — your ticker will benefit, too. That’s because exercise can help raise levels of good HDL cholesterol.
Drop a clothing size
Losing some excess weight will naturally reduce your cholesterol levels. By following the steps outlined above, you’ll be well on your way to a healthier heart and body!
Heart disease is the single biggest killer of Australians
Melissa is an Accredited Practising Dietitian with a love of healthy, delicious food. She is passionate about helping others to lead healthier lives and teaching people to use nutrition to better their health.