Cholesterol is essential for our bodies to function correctly, but a balance of good and bad cholesterol in our body needs to be maintained.
This can be a little confusing and many people do not realise they need some types of cholesterol to maintain good health.
When someone tells me they have high cholesterol, I ask “What is your HDL and LDL cholesterol levels?” They often don’t know. They have been told their total cholesterol number, not the breakup of their cholesterols.
HDL is the ‘good’ cholesterol and LDL is the ‘bad’ cholesterol and it’s important to know these two numbers. This helps get a clearer idea of your cholesterol levels and how they should be treated. Cholesterol is simply a type of fat that is essential for our body’s processes.
Our bodies convert fats in food into cholesterol which travel in the blood to where it is needed. When bad cholesterol levels get too high, these build up in the arteries and block blood flow. This can increase the chances of developing high blood pressure, cancer, heart attack, heart disease and stroke.
Eating too many foods high in trans fats and saturated fats is what mostly causes high levels of bad cholesterol. Trans fats are normally found in bakery products like pastries, cakes, pies and biscuits. Saturated fats come mainly from animal products like meat and eggs.
‘Good’ cholesterol comes mostly from eating good fats and is vital in maintaining good heart health. You can reduce your amount of bad cholesterol by eating foods that are high in polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fats, like fish, nuts and seeds, avocados, grains, olive oil and sunflower oil.
These foods and oils raise your good cholesterol and reduce bad cholesterol. I believe avoidance of fats due to low fat diets can be a big cause of high levels of bad cholesterol. By all means your intake of saturated and trans fats should be moderated, but many people confuse all fats as raising bad cholesterol levels.
As listed above, there are many foods ‘high in fat’ that actually help lower your bad cholesterol. Interestingly, the ‘Mediterranean’ diet, which is high in fish, nuts, grains and other good fats, is now being hailed as an answer to high cholesterol.