I recently started a new job doing health checks with tradies. I love it! They are so down to earth and often very funny. We look at their blood pressure, diabetes risk, and also their cholesterol levels. The fun part is talking about how to manage those things. The majority of people are actually pretty interested to know how their health is going. Of course now and then you get someone who just wants a rest from the cold, and who could blame them? It’s freezing working on an exposed 10 story building on a cold winters morning!
Cholesterol problems are increasing in Australian's
This last week I had a work day where at least 5 of the people I saw recently had blood tests done. All of these people told me the doctor said their cholesterol was high but they weren’t sure what to do about it. I was able to answer their questions and, I hope, give some clarity on the issue.
However, for every person I talk to in a private consultation I know there are dozens more in the community with the same questions. So, let’s talk about cholesterol! (Feel free to ask questions in the comments below or call Inspiro on 9028 0153).
What is cholesterol?
Cholesterol is a waxy fatty substance that is found in every cell of our bodies. We need it to make hormones, vitamin D and bile acids (which help with digestion of food) and to help maintain the structure of cells. The liver makes 80% of the cholesterol we need for good health. The other 20% we get from our food.
Why is cholesterol such a big deal in health?
If there is too much cholesterol in the blood, there is a risk that it will get stuck in the wall of the arteries (forming a plaque). These plaques can cause the blood vessels to narrow (atherosclerosis).
Atherosclerosis can cause an increase in blood pressure, causing the heart to overwork in the attempt to pump blood around the body. It also increases the risk that not enough blood will get to certain parts of the body. This can cause angina (heart pain), heart attack, stroke, erectile dysfunction and other conditions.
Long term this process increases the risk of heart disease and cardiovascular disease- the leading cause of death worldwide.
Have you heard someone talk about good and bad cholesterol?
There are two main types of cholesterol. Our bodies use both types. ‘LDL cholesterol’ (low-density lipoprotein) makes up about 60-70% of the cholesterol in the blood. It is smaller in size and is more likely to get stuck in the artery walls. Whereas, HDL cholesterol (high-density lipoprotein) is larger in size and helps clear out the cholesterol blockages in the arteries.
What factors effect my blood cholesterol levels?
There are many factors that influence our cholesterol levels. Diet and lifestyle can effect cholesterol levels. Genetic risk is often a key contributor, but diet and lifestyle are even more important as these are area's you can directly control.
Moderation in the amount and type of high fat foods you eat is essential for managing blood cholesterol levels.
Most dietary cholesterol comes from foods high in saturated fats. Saturated fats can increase the amount of LDL (bad) cholesterol in the body. Unsaturated fats can increase the amount of HDL (good) cholesterol in the body.
5 simple ways to manage and decrease your cholesterol
1. Foods high in soluble fibre also help reduce the LDL cholesterol in the body. These foods can include fruits, vegetables, oats, lentils, soy products and seeds. It's not as hard as you think to improve what you eat, see our 14 dietitian approved plant based snacks here.
One simple way to immediately increase your fibre intake is to take a fibre supplement like psyllium husks.
2 Regular exercise, Our Exercise Physiologist Mitch has 8 simple, easy exercise tips for you here. And here 10 great benefits to exercising regularly.
3. Healthy weight management Lose as much excess weight as you can. Don't stress, just start small and aim for a caloric deficit everyday. If you feel like you're struggling with your weight because of emotional eating click here.
4. Reducing alcohol intake
5. Supplementing with fish oil or regularly eating salmon. Replace your oil use with healthier oils like olive oil and macadamia nut oil.
6. Limit your intake of foods full of saturated fats, trans fats, and dietary cholesterol. Foods with a lot of saturated fat include butter, fatty flesh like red meat, full-fat and low-fat dairy products, palm oil, and coconut oil. Seeing coconut oil in that sentence may be confusing to some, here's our article about the truth on coconut oil.
Who should I talk to for more information?
Call Inspiro on 9028 0153 or click on the links to read more about cholesterol from:
Managing your blood cholesterol levels
Your doctor can explain more about cholesterol and refer you for blood tests to see how your blood cholesterol levels are and Inspiro's team of dietitians can help you look improve your diet to manage your cholesterol levels and cardiovascular disease risk.
Written by Courtney Vinck - Accredited Practising Dietitian.