Our forefathers lived a healthier life than us; they mostly ate fresh seasonal fruits and vegetables, did not drink aerated beverages as much, did not use hydrogenated cooking medium much, and spent a lot of time in natural sunlight, walking, climbing, socialising. In general, they remained active. Their bodies would make the required amount of cholesterol and the excess would get used up in various activities. This was the advantage of a healthy lifestyle, which unfortunately isn’t possible in today’s world.
If you find that your cholesterol levels are high, you should begin with changing your diet first, and then move on to improving your lifestyle. Reducing saturated fat and cholesterol in our diet is the key to cholesterol reduction. But there are other dietary adjustments that need to be made.
Facts about Cholesterol
Cholesterol is a waxy substance made by the liver and also supplied to the diet through animal products such as meats, poultry, fish and dairy products. Cholesterol is required by the body to insulate nerves, make cell membranes and produce certain hormones.
Too much cholesterol in the blood can lead to cardiovascular disease. Understanding the facts about cholesterol will help you take better care of your heart, live a healthier life, and thereby reduce risk of heart attack or stroke.
The good, the bad and the ugly
Good cholesterol: High-Density Lipoprotein, or HDL, is known as the ‘good’ cholesterol. Your body makes HDL cholesterol for your protection. It carries cholesterol away from your arteries. Studies suggest that high levels of HDL cholesterol reduce risks of heart attack.
Bad cholesterol: Low-Density Lipoprotein, or LDL, is known as the ‘bad’ cholesterol. Too much LDL cholesterol can clog your arteries, increasing your risk of heart attack and stroke.
…and the ugly
When there is too much cholesterol in your blood, it can build up in the walls of your arteries. This build-up is called plaque, which ends up blocking the blood vessels. When the blood supply to a portion of the heart is completely cut off by a blockage, it results in a heart attack.
Six cholesterol myths
- Using margarine instead of butter will help lower cholesterol:
Both margarine and butter are high in fat. Therefore, both need to be used in moderation. From a dietary perspective, the major factor affecting blood cholesterol is the amount of saturated fat in the food. Reducing the intake of saturated fat is the key to help control cholesterol.
- Thin people do not have to worry about high cholesterol:
Overweight people are more likely to have high cholesterol from eating too many fatty foods, but thin people should also have their cholesterol checked regularly. Often, people who don’t gain weight easily are less aware of how much saturated fat they eat. Nobody can “eat anything they want” and stay healthy. Cholesterol levels should be checked regularly regardless of weight, exercise habits and diet. Highly stressed thin people are known to have high cholesterol levels and are more prone to heart attack and stroke.
- My doctor hasn’t said anything about my cholesterol, so I don’t have to worry:
Unfortunately, not all physicians are as proactive about healthy lifestyles as they should be. Our health is our responsibility. We should make sure that we have our cholesterol levels checked and learn how to interpret all the numbers, including HDL cholesterol, LDL cholesterol and triglyceride levels.
If you are in a high or borderline-high range, you may be able to control the levels by eating a diet lower in saturated fat and cholesterol, getting 20 minutes of physical activity daily or quitting smoking. If lifestyle changes alone don’t work, a physician may prescribe cholesterol-lowering medication.
- Since I am on medication for my high cholesterol, I may eat what I want:
Unless the cholesterol is dangerously high, it’s best to try to reduce it by changing the diet. Drug therapy is usually prescribed for those who, despite adequate dietary changes, regular physical activity and weight loss, have elevated levels of cholesterol. Modern medications have come a long way in helping control blood cholesterol levels. Making lifestyle changes along with prescribed medication is the best way to help prevent heart disease. Reducing the amount of saturated fat and cholesterol in the diet and getting 30–60 minutes of exercise on most or all days of the week is recommended, even on cholesterol- lowering medication. It’s also very important to take the medication exactly as the doctor has instructed so it can work most efficiently. “I may eat what I want” should not be encouraged as it will slow down the effect of the medication.
- Women do not have to worry; high cholesterol is a man’s problem:
Pre-menopausal women are usually protected from high levels of LDL cholesterol, because the female hormone oestrogen tends to raise HDL cholesterol levels. Post-menopausal women may find that even a heart-healthy diet and regular exercise aren’t enough to keep their cholesterol from rising. If you’re approaching menopause, it’s important to have your cholesterol checked and talk to your doctor about your options.
- Cholesterol need not be checked until one reaches middle age:
It’s a good idea to start having your cholesterol checked at an early age. Even children, especially those in families with a history of heart disease, can have high cholesterol levels. Evidence exists that these children are at greater risk for developing heart disease as adults. Lack of exercise, poor dietary habits and genetics can all affect a child’s cholesterol levels. One is never too young to develop a heart-healthy lifestyle by eating foods low in saturated fats, getting 30 minutes of physical activity on most days and avoiding tobacco products.
We hope that the article helped you in understanding the basic facts about cholesterol and how what you can do to keep it in check. Stay happy, stay healthy.