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A diet high in saturated fat can increase levels of cholesterol, a fatty substance produced by the liver from fatty foods.
Cholesterol travels around the body encased in proteins. There are two types:
Cholesterol is transported by the LDL to the cells where it's needed for the normal functioning of the body. Any excess cholesterol is transported back to the liver by the HDL, where it's either broken down or flushed out of the body.
However, too much cholesterol in the body means not all of it is flushed away and can lead to gradual build-up of fat in the arteries. Over time, this can increase your risk of developing cardiovascular disease, such as coronary heart disease, as well as diabetes and stroke.
In England, cholesterol levels are above the recommended level of 5mmol/litre. Men have an average cholesterol level of 5.5mmol/l, and women have a level of 5.6mmol/l.
You can help prevent high cholesterol by eating a healthy, balanced diet that is low in saturated fat.
“The most common cause of high cholesterol in the UK is eating too much fatty food,” says Heart Research UK's Denise Armstrong.
A healthy diet can significantly help to reduce cholesterol.
Saturated fats can increase the level of cholesterol in the blood and increase the risk of narrowed arteries.
Foods high in saturated fat include butter, hard cheese, fatty meat, biscuits, cakes, cream, lard, suet, ghee, coconut oil and palm oil.
Including a small amount of unsaturated fat in your diet can be healthy as this type of fat can reduce cholesterol.
Foods high in unsaturated fats include olive oil, rapeseed oil, sunflower oil, nuts and seeds (walnuts, pine nuts, sesame seeds), and some margarines and spreads.
Armstrong recommends using rapeseed oil for cooking at a high temperature, such as frying or roasting.
“Olive oil burns at high temperatures and becomes unhealthy,” she says. “Use olive oil in salad dressing, mashed potatoes or to add flavour to dishes.”
“If you need to reduce your cholesterol level, it’s much more important that you eat foods that are low in saturated fat,” says Armstrong.
Substances called plant sterols and stanols are added to certain foods including margarines, yoghurts and milk drinks. They can also reduce cholesterol.
“Even if you do eat sterol-enriched foods, it’s still important to make sure you follow a healthy diet,” says Armstrong.
An active lifestyle can help to lower cholesterol levels. Activities can range from low-impact brisk walks and cycling, to more vigorous exercise such as running and dancing.
Doing 150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic activity every week can improve your cholesterol levels.
“One way of achieving this target is by doing 30 minutes of activity on five days a week,” says Armstrong.
“For it to count, you need to be active enough to make you feel warm and slightly out of breath, but still able to hold a conversation.”
Armstrong says that inactive people achieve more immediate benefits from taking up exercise than those who are already fit.
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