What is cholesterol?
Cholesterol is a waxy substance produced by the liver and contained in some foods. It is carried in the blood by proteins, some of which are referred to as ‘bad’ (LDL = Low Density Lipoprotein) or ‘good’ (HDL = High Density Lipoprotein).
Too much cholesterol in the blood can lead to heart and circulatory diseases.
Understanding your cholesterol results
When you get your cholesterol result from your doctor, it's split into a variety of different measurements.
- TC which stands for total cholesterol (a measurement of bad and good cholesterol) and should ideally be below 5 millimoles per litre of blood (mmol/l)
- LDL (bad cholesterol), which should be less than 3mmols/l
- HDL (good cholesterol). This should read more than 1mmol/l for men and 1.2 mmol/l for women
- A fasting triglyceride sample, which should be 2 mmols/l or less
- A non-fasting triglyceride result, which should be 4 mmols/l or less.
Total cholesterol of 5.8mmols/l is higher than recommended, but could be reduced with simple diet and lifestyle changes rather than medical treatment. Medical treatment would only be appropriate if the level was much higher.
Ways to reduce cholesterol through healthier eating
- Replace butter on bread with sunflower or olive oil spreads.
- Reduce (or stop) cooking with high level fats such as butter, lard, ghee, and goose fat. Use minimal amount of vegetable oils and spreads when cooking instead.
- Replace fatty meats, such as sausages and burgers, with lean meats, such as chicken (without the skin) and all kinds of fish (white and oily).
- Avoid snacks such as cakes, biscuits, chocolate and pastries, and replace with nuts (without coatings), dried and fresh fruit, or hummus.
- Cut out full fat milk or cream in yoghurt, tea and coffee, soups and sauces. Replace with a lower fat option, such as skimmed milk.
- Try to cut out cheese altogether. If you must eat cheese, ensure it's low fat or stick to much smaller portion sizes, less often.
- Eat soups that are low in salt and made with vegetable stock and choose tomato-based sauces over creamy ones. However, also be aware of the sugar in some tomato-based sauces. High sugar content food is not good for someone with raised cholesterol.
- Avoid frying foods. Use alternative cooking methods such as grilling, slow cooking and poaching. If roasting something, ensure you use a small amount of vegetable oil, such as olive, sunflower or rapeseed oil.
Take a look at our article on the best cholesterol-lowering foods for more information, or visit our diet and nutrition centre for lots of dietary tips, inspiration and healthy and delicious recipesto help get you started.
Lifestyle changes to reduce cholesterol
- Increase your activity levels...
- Try using the stairs instead of lifts or escalators
- Park away from the shops or your worklplace and walk the rest of the way
- Go for a walk during your lunch break
- Team up with a friend and get an allotment
- Get more active as a family - try cycling, swimming, park rambles or taking the dog for a walk.
- Stop smoking. Enquire at your local GP surgery about any stop smoking support groups or NHS supported programmes.
- Reduce alcohol intake. Drink no more than 14 units per week. Ensure you spread your units over the course of a week and do not save them up and drink them all on one day/evening.
- Lose weight - particularly if your carry weight around your waist. In European people, a waist line of 80cm (32 inches) carries an increased risk and 88cm (35 inches) carries a high risk of increased cholesterol and heart disease.
Take a look at our wellbeing hub for inspiration, motivation and expert tips to help you eat, move and live your way to better health.
Or visit our heart centre for more information about heart related conditions and simple steps you can take to stay heart healthy.
Answered by the Health at Hand team.
What are the best foods for lowering cholesterol? - AXA Health
Getting active - your way - AXA Health
Staying heart healthy - AXA Health
High cholesterol - NHS factsheet
Cardiovascular disease - NHS factsheet
Heart centre - AXA Health
Heart UK - the cholesterol charity
British Heart Foundation
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