You hear so many stories these days about diet, cholesterol and heart disease that you could easily be frightened to death. NHS registered Dietitians at Eatatease.com help unravel the tales from the truth with clear, sound advice.
Diet and coronary heart disease
The food we eat affects our health both directly and indirectly in lots of ways. There is, for instance, a direct relationship between diet and heart problems, so having the wrong eating habits can help increase the risk of heart disease and even stroke through contributing factors such as cholesterol, blood pressure, blood clotting and body weight.
Like most of these factors, cholesterol only becomes a problem when its concentrations in the blood are too high. Although it is a fatty substance, this in itself is not a problem, as the body actually needs a certain amount of it producing some itself and absorbing the rest from animal foods such as dairy products, eggs and meat.
Cholesterol is carried around the body in the blood, where it is attached to a protein in a fat-protein combination known as a lipoprotein. These are categorised as high density (HDL), low density (LDL) or very low density (VLDL), depending on the amount of protein in relation to the fat.
It doesnt take an Einstein to work out that its the low and very low-density lipoproteins that can cause serious damage to our coronary system if they become too highly concentrated in the blood, adding to blood pressure and blood clotting, while a good level of HDLs actually helps to combat cholesterol build-up in the arteries.
To further complicate matters there is another type of fat to look out for: triglycerides. Triglycerides are derived from calories that are stored up in fat cells, theoretically as a reserve for later use. Although most are stored in fat tissue, low levels are also found in the blood, where they work with VDLs to increase the risk of heart disease.
How do you know if your cholesterol is high?
High cholesterol itself does not cause any symptoms, so many people are unaware that their cholesterol levels are high. The only way to know if you have high cholesterol is by a blood test.
Foods that build cholesterol
- Avoid a high intake of saturated fats, found mainly in animal products such as lard, butter, cream and hard cheese. These foods are fine in moderation, but can contribute significantly to cholesterol levels, so try to keep to an occasional treat, limit to a 2-4 times a week.
- Limit cholesterol-rich foods such as prawns, fish roe and offal (kidneys, liver etc) to no more than once every two weeks and eggs to no more than 3-4 times a week. Egg white contains no cholesterol and can replace yolks. Substitute two whites for one egg
- Reduce your intake of salt and sugar-based products such as cakes and sweets, and greasy foods such as chips, chorizo, pies and anything fried in oil. If you enjoy these foods, treat yourself once a week.
- Remember, all fats are high in calories and will create fat pockets that are unsightly, unhealthy and will strain your heart and other organs, so moderate your intake of fatty foods, watch your weight and exercise. It need not be a strenuous programme; just get off the sofa and make sure you move more
Foods that help prevent cholesterol build-up
- We cant avoid consuming fat altogether, nor would it be healthy to, so make sure you choose healthier fats such as monounsaturated fats like those found in olive oil, olive oil spreads and rapeseed oil, as they give us the fat content we need without building up HDL levels.
- Polyunsaturated fats, such as those in vegetables and seeds like sunflower, soya, maize and fish oil are good in moderation. The omega-3 contained in oily fish such as mackerel, sardines, kippers, salmon, trout and fresh tuna are excellent in combating heart disease, so try to have a portion at least twice a week.
- Fibre helps to break down cholesterol, hence the doctors advice to eat at least five portions of fruit and vegetables a day, but these and other fibre-rich foods like beans and oats will also give you a healthy, natural energy boost.
- Fats are less likely to build up in your arteries or as unsightly belts on your body if you burn them up through exercise. Again, the amount of exercise should be in proportion to your fitness levels, so its better to do little often than try being overly ambitious only to give up shortly afterwards. For those not keen on physical exercise or sport just walking is a relaxing but healthy way to keep fit.