Heart disease is the leading cause of death in Ireland today. The good news is that 80% of heart disease is preventable simply by changing your lifestyle.
Cholesterol is a type of fat that is found in your blood. When your blood has too much cholesterol, it can start to stick to the walls of your arteries. If this happens then blood can’t get through and you can have a heart attack, a stroke or develop problems like angina. Once any cholesterol has lined your arteries you cannot remove it but you can stop it from getting worse.
One of the best ways to look after cholesterol is to look after what you eat. There are some foods that will increase cholesterol levels and others that will help to reduce them.
What are healthy cholesterol Levels?
For most people, it is the level of your LDL or “bad” cholesterol that is most important. LDL cholesterol should be less than 3.0. However, if you already have heart disease (e.g. if you have had a heart attack or surgery for heart disease) or if you have other risk factors like high blood pressure, then you need to aim for even lower levels of LDL cholesterol.
The information below set specific targets for your LDL cholesterol;If you already have heart disease,
type 2 diabetes or organ damage from type 1 diabetes – LDL needs to be <1.8
If you do not have any of the problems listed above
but you do have high levels of one of the other risk factors
for heart disease, such as high blood pressure – LDL needs to be <2.5
What Foods do I need to reduce?
Cholesterol in your blood comes from two main places.
Firstly, you can eat cholesterol in certain foods. Eggs, crustaceans (like prawns, lobster and crab) and liver all have cholesterol in them. However, this type of cholesterol is only responsible for a small amount of the cholesterol found in your blood.
The second-place cholesterol comes from is saturated fat: this is where most of the cholesterol in your blood comes from. When you eat saturated fat, your liver makes cholesterol from it and this is why saturated fats raise blood cholesterol levels. Saturated fat is the type of fat found mainly in animal foods like cream, cheese and butter and the fat on meat. It is also found in biscuits, cakes, pastries and scones because we use saturated fat to make them. Saturated fat is also found in processed meat like sausages, black and white pudding, pate and so on. You can look at labels to see how much saturated fat there is in your food.
What is high and what is low saturated fat?
High saturated fat:
More than 5g of saturated fat per 100g of the food.
Low saturated fat:
Less than 1.5g of saturated fat per 100g of the food.
What can I do to reduce saturated fat?
1. Eat less butter and cream and limit cheese.
Remember that dairy foods like milk and yogurt are important sources of calcium in your diet so it not healthy to cut out these foods. Do choose low-fat or skimmed milk and low-fat yoghurts. If your cholesterol is high it is best to limit the amount of cheese you eat.
2. Choose low fat cooking methods
Swap frying for grilling, boiling and baking. Try steaming more foods and choose healthier fats for roasting such as rapeseed oil instead of lard or butter.
3. Trim the visible fat from meat and remove the skin from chicken.
Most of the fat in chicken is just under the skin.
What fats should I use?
Healthier fats to choose are olive oil and rapeseed oil and spreads that are made from them. You can olive or rapeseed oil in cooking or dressings. Just remember that these fats have as many calories as any other type of fat so only use a small amount to help keep weight healthy.
What foods help to lower cholesterol?
1. Oats: Eating porridge is a great way to help lower cholesterol. If you don’t like porridge, try adding oats or other cereals or look for oatcakes.
2. Beans and Lentils: These high fibre foods can help keep cholesterol levels healthy. Try to have beans in salads, soups made with lentils and chilli con carne.
3. Barley: Barley is rich in a type of fibre called beta-glucan which can also help lower cholesterol. Try adding some traditional ‘soup-mix’ to soups, stews and casseroles.
Plant sterols/stanols are natural substances found in some foods – such as almonds, soy bean oil and sesame seeds. Studies show that taking 1.5g-2.4g of plant sterols/stanols per day can reduce cholesterol by 7-10% in about 3 weeks. Plant sterols and stanols work by blocking the amount of cholesterol your body absorbed from food you eat. Cholesterol also gets into your digestive tract from your liver and the plant sterols/stanols help to reduce the amount of this type of cholesterol you re-absorb as well. Just remember that although these ingredients can help lower cholesterol, they are not miracle workers- you will still need to eat healthy to get the best benefit.
If your cholesterol levels are normal, there is no need for you to use foods with added plant stanols/sterols. They are also not suitable for pregnant women and children.
What other foods should I choose?
Fish: Although fish will not help to lower cholesterol, it has lots of benefits for your heart, Omega-3 fats, which are found in oil rich fish such as salmon, trout, mackerel, herring and sardines, are very beneficial for your heart. Did you know that eating fish once a week can cut your chances of a fatal heart attack by over 30%? Omega-3 fats are found in fresh, frozen, tinned, fried and smoked fish. Tuna is the one exception- true tuna has omega- 3s but tinned tuna generally doesn’t. However, tinned salmon, tinned mackerel and tinned sardines are all good sources of omega-3s.
What else can I do?
2. Get a healthy weight
3. Stop smoking
Did you Know?
If you walk 30 minutes per day that you reduce your chances of having heart disease by 30%? If you increase this to 1 hour a day, you reduce your chances of having heart disease by 50%. Any exercise is good as long as you are breathing a little faster- you should be able to talk but not sing!