While most people know that cholesterol is important, few actually understand what it is and how to control it.
Cholesterol is manufactured by the body from a variety of foods, and plays a number of key roles, including the absorption and transport of fatty acids, the maintenance of healthy cells and nerve fibres, and the synthesis of vitamin D.
The problem is that if too much builds up in the arteries, it can lead to heart attacks and strokes. Most people know that fatty foods can increase blood cholesterol, but many are surprised to learn that even those who rarely eat red meat, watch their fat intake and generally eat healthy foods can nonetheless have elevated levels.
The factors that can increase your blood cholesterol levels include:
- Poor health
- Lack of exercise
- Too much refined sugar
- High blood pressure
- Post-menopausal conditions in women
A regular test from your GP will let you know your current levels, and the following can help to reduce those levels, and the consequent chances of illness:
- Reduce your consumption of saturated fat.
- Cut refined sugar and refined carbohydrates.
- Eat more soluble fibre (beans, oats, oat bran, corn bran, fruits and vegetables). This will also increase the amount of phytochemicals and pectin, both of which reduce blood levels.
- Choose polyunsaturated fatty acids like olive oil, and essential fatty acids from nuts, fish, flaxseed etc.
- Decrease alcohol consumption.
- Eat small, regular meals - this decreases hunger, minimises fat storage, and keeps blood sugar and insulin levels steady.
- Include vegetable proteins (tofu, beans, tempeh) in your diet.
- Eat soy.
- Avoid trans-fats
- Exercise regularly.
- If you are overweight, lose weight slowly and sensibly.
- Stop smoking.