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What is Cholesterol?

Cholesterol is an essential fat-like substance found in the body that is required for building cells. The body is capable of producing cholesterol as required; however excess cholesterol as a result of excess dietary fat can be harmful.

There are two types of cholesterol:

LDL Cholesterol is also known as bad cholesterol as it can cause plaque build-up on artery walls. Arteries then narrow and harden, slowing or reducing blood flow. If an artery becomes blocked a heart attack may occur.

HDL Cholesterol is also known as good cholesterol because it helps to protect against coronary heart disease by removing excess plaque.

Who may be at risk?

Cholesterol tends to build up over time and so the risk of high cholesterol increases with age. Those who have a sedentary lifestyle and choose processed, fatty and/or fast foods increase their risk of high cholesterol and poor cardiovascular outcomes. Research shows that men over the age of 45 are at the greatest risk of cardiovascular disease.

How can you control your cholesterol?

Healthy cholesterol levels can be managed through diet and exercise. For the best cholesterol profile choose polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fats rather than saturated fats as they're healthier fats that reduce 'bad' LDL cholesterol and improve 'good' HDL cholesterol. It is also beneficial to limit your intake of saturated and trans fats as they can increase your total and LDL cholesterols.

Tips to improve cholesterol:
  • Pay close attention to nutrition labels, avoiding foods high in saturated and trans fats
  • Consume a balanced diet, including whole grain breads and cereals, brown rice, whole grain pasta, fruit, vegetables, legumes and low fat dairy products
  • Include foods high in polyunsaturated fats such as sunflower and soybean oils, fish, some nuts and seeds
  • Include foods high in monounsaturated fats such as margarine spreads and oil (canola oil, olive oil), some nuts and avocados
  • Use olive oil instead as a spread instead of butter and as salad and pasta dressing
  • Limit takeaway foods such as pastries, pies, pizza, fried fish, hamburgers, hot chips and creamy pasta dishes
  • Choose Heart Foundation tick foods, spreads and margarines
  • Try to replace some meat meals with beans or legumes
  • Aim to eat 2-3 serves of oily fish each week to increase the amount of omega-3's in your diet
  • Be active everyday

For more information visit The Heart Foundation.