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Understanding Cholesterol - Infographic

By Ellie B. Graphic Designer  Thursday 24th December, 2015
Understanding Cholesterol - Infographic

Understanding cholesterol

Cholesterol is a fatty substance that plays an essential role in the maintenance of good health. It is produced by the liver to support the maintenance of cell membranes and the production of hormones. The body has the ability to produce much of the cholesterol the body needs; to maintain good health 75% of cholesterol should be produced by the liver, while 25% should come from food. However, if dietary sources of cholesterol are too high, cholesterol begins to clump together in the arteries to form harmful fatty plaques.

Good vs bad cholesterol

There are two different types of cholesterol, HDL and LDL:

  • the good kind – HDL (high density lipoproteins) - this transports cholesterol away from arteries and reduces the risk of heart disease.
  • the bad kind – LDL (low density lipoproteins) – this builds up along artery walls to form a plaque, leading to blockages, heart attack or stroke.

What should my cholesterol be?

HDL and LDL cholesterol levels are measured individually and then combined to create a total cholesterol score. The Department of Health advises total cholesterol levels should be 5.0 mmol/L or less:

  • Total cholesterol – 5.0 mmol/L or less
  • HDL cholesterol - 1.2 mmol/L or more
  • LDL cholesterol - 3.0 mmol/L or less

It is estimated that 6 out of every 10 adults in the UK have raised cholesterol levels over 5.0 mmol/L. If you are concerned, speak to your GP. They will use a simple blood test to measure your cholesterol levels. For more detailed guidance read Everything you need to know about your cholesterol guidelines by Nutritionist Alex Rood.

Risk factors for high cholesterol

Diet and lifestyle play a huge role in the maintenance of normal cholesterol levels. A diet rich in saturated fats or alcohol increases the amount of cholesterol in the blood, while a lack of regular exercise allows it to build up along artery walls.  

It’s important to be aware of your family history because if a close family member has suffered from any form of heart disease, you are more at risk. Advancing age also increases the risk. If you are over the age of 40, you are entitled to free cholesterol checks on the NHS so head to your GP.

Reduce cholesterol with Plant Sterols

Plant sterols are one of the most effective and safest remedies for high cholesterol. They are plant-based micro nutrients that are naturally present in fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds and vegetable oils. Over 23 placebo-controlled clinical trials have proven that a daily intake of 1200mg of plant sterol lowers cholesterol by 11% in only 2 to 3 weeks.

There are several ways to add these beneficial sterols to your diet. Fortified margarines and yoghurts have been shown to be effective at lowering cholesterol, while plant sterol supplements are a convenient and cost-effective alternative.

Tips for a healthy heart

  • Limit salt intake: A diet high in salt increases blood pressure and The Department of Health advises all adults to consume less than 6g of salt per day. This equates to approximately 1 teaspoon, which is well below the average intake.
  • Eat fresh fish: The Department of Health also advises all children and adults to consume 2 to 3 portions of fresh oily fish per week. Salmon, mackerel and sardines are all rich in beneficial omega 3 fatty acids, which are known to support healthy heart function.
  • Up your fruit and veg intake: You should aim to eat at least five portions of fruits and vegetables per day. Try to include a range of different types as the different colours offer different health benefits.
  • Exercise regularly: Aim to exercise 3 times per week for at least 30 minutes. Exercise doesn’t need to be too strenuous – a simple fast-paced walk is good for the heart. If you are not used to exercising, start slowly and increase gradually. 
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