High cholesterol: Nutritionist reveals top prevention tips
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High cholesterol is mainly caused by eating fatty food, not exercising enough, being overweight, smoking and drinking alcohol, though it can also run in families. Lifestyle changes can often help lower your cholesterol, though some people will take medicine for high cholesterol. There do not tend to be any symptoms, though when there is a blockage you may notice signs.
The American College of Cardiology Foundation says that “it’s not until there may be a large blockage of the artery that you might notice something is wrong”.
For example, you may have chest pain, pain in the arms or jaw, nausea, sweating, or shortness of breath.
“These usually occur when the blood supply to the heart or brain is being slowed or blocked,” it adds.
The organisation says that the first sign of elevated cholesterol may be a heart attack or stroke.
You can find out if you have high cholesterol through a blood test.
If you are over 40, you may have a test during your NHS Health Check. This is a check-up that can help spot early signs of problems like heart disease and diabetes.
Cholesterol is a fatty substance produced by the liver that brings many important health benefits, such as making hormones and building cell membranes.
High cholesterol means you have too much of the “bad” cholesterol. This is known as LDL cholesterol.
“Your GP might suggest having a test if they think your cholesterol level could be high,” Heart UK adds.
It says that you should aim to do at least 150 minutes of exercise a week, and smoking can raise your cholesterol and make you more likely to have serious problems like heart attacks, strokes and cancer.
The British Heart Foundation (BHF) says: “If your cholesterol is very high and if lifestyle changes are not enough, your doctor might suggest controlling it with medication.” Statins are the main type of medicine used to reduce cholesterol.
To stave off the risks posed by high cholesterol, it is vital that you intervene early in its development.
If you have been advised to make dietary changes, there are a number of things to consider and several general rules to follow.
The Heart and Stroke Foundation of Canada says: “As a rule of thumb, steer clear of highly processed foods, even if they are lower in fat content. Low-fat or diet foods are often loaded with calories, sodium and added sugar.”
It says that it is also a good idea to add more vegetarian options like beans, lentils, tofu and nuts to your weekly meal plans, and “get in the habit of filling half your plate with vegetables and fruit”.
The organisation also explains: “In the last 20 years, the rules on healthy eating have shifted. Super restrictive diets aren’t sustainable or the healthiest choice.”
You should try to avoid drinking more than 14 units of alcohol a week, and avoid binge drinking. You can ask your GP for help if you are struggling to cut down.
There are two main types of fat, which are saturated and unsaturated. Eating too many foods high in saturated fat can raise the level of cholesterol in your blood. The health body says most people in the UK eat too much saturated fat.
The American Heart Association says that in general, red meats (such as beef, pork and lamb) have more saturated fat than skinless chicken, fish and plant protein, and can raise your blood cholesterol and increase your risk of heart disease.
Eating plenty of fibre helps lower your risk of heart disease, and some high-fibre foods can help lower your cholesterol.
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