So you’re interested in getting fit? Maybe you weigh yourself regularly. Maybe you know your normal blood pressure or resting heart rate. But what about your cholesterol levels? Many adults are living with high levels of cholesterol that could easily be treated with lifestyle changes. To do so it’s important to know exactly what cholesterol is and the causes of high cholesterol. We want to help you get started so here are the most important basics on cholesterol – a pesky physiological phenomenon!
What is cholesterol?
Cholesterol is a fatty substance found in the body that is mainly produced in the liver. While ‘fatty’ automatically sounds bad, in fact cholesterol is vital to a lot of the body’s important functions and we need to make sure we have enough of it going round our system at all times. However, there are different types of cholesterol so the key to staying healthy and strong is to increase our good cholesterol while bringing down the bad.
Good cholesterol versus bad cholesterol
Good and bad cholesterol? That certainly sounds like a strange idea. Isn’t it all just one type of fat? Well no. While we may talk about cholesterol as one thing, the term actually refers to both the high-density lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol and low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol. Don’t let the long science words confuse you, essentially HDL is the so called ‘good cholesterol’ and LDL is bad. Some people like to remember this by thinking of H for happy cholesterol!
What are the causes of high cholesterol?
If you want to increase your HDL cholesterol and lower your LDL cholesterol, it’s important to know the causes of high LDL cholesterol. There are lots of different factors including smoking, having a family history of it (i.e. someone you are related to also has high cholesterol) and having other medical conditions that make it more likely – such as diabetes and hypertension (also known as high blood pressure). However, one important factor is what you eat. Essentially, research suggests that a diet high in saturated fats is one of the main modifiable causes of high cholesterol, i.e. one that we can do something about. Saturated fats are found in foods like cheese, butter and meat, as well as those made from these substances like cakes and biscuits.
What should you eat to lower bad cholesterol?
It makes sense, if eating a diet high in saturated fat can raise bad cholesterol levels, that replacing these with unsaturated fats can help lower bad cholesterol. Yep, that’s right – it’s not just about eradicating fats from your diet all together. Fats are an important macronutrient that your body definitely needs. The important thing is to focus on getting ‘good fats’ – those high in unsaturated fat. These come in foods like avocado, salmon (and other oily fish), nuts, seeds and oils like rapeseed and olive oil. Try using olive oil rather than butter when cooking or replacing steak night with a nice meal of salmon and veg. These small swaps can make a big different in the long run.
To be healthy inside and out it’s important to eat right, get regular exercise and avoid too much stress. Making sure you have healthy cholesterol levels – both good and bad – is one key part of staying in good shape long term. Follow our tips above and see how you get on!