The more saturated fats you eat, the more VLDLs your liver makes, and these eventually become LDLs. If at the same time you do not have many HDLs, you end up with too much cholesterol in your blood. Saturated fat is found mainly in animal foods. Plant foods - fruits, vegetables, grains and nuts - contain no cholesterol.
VLDLs are made in the liver and their job is to carry fats around the body. Once they deliver some of their fat load, they become LDLs -
- LDLs carry the remaining cholesterol around the body. LDL has been dubbed the ‘bad’ cholesterol, and it is important to have low levels of LDL.
HDLs, on the other hand, carry cholesterol back to the liver. HDL is known as the ‘good’ cholesterol, and you want to have high levels of HDL in your blood.
How do I keep my ‘bad’ cholesterol levels low?
- Aim for a healthy body weight. The more you weigh, the more your body stores fat and cholesterol.
- Be active: it raises HDL levels, helps you lose weight and lowers other risk factors for Heart disease.
- Aim to accumulate at least 30 minutes of moderate physical activity on most days. Find an enjoyable activity you can stick to, and try to put a little more activity into each day.
- Change your diet. Healthy eating is essential to lower your blood cholesterol levels and improve your heart health.
- Cut down on saturated fat. Only 30% of your day’s calories should come from fat. It is also important to know your fats and choose those that are less harmful.
Saturated fats should be eaten sparingly. They are found mainly in animal foods such as meat, butter, cream, cheese, dripping and lard. Two vegetable oils, coconut and palm oil, are high in saturated fat and are often used in commercially baked biscuits and cakes. Saturated fats increase LDL cholesterol.
Polyunsaturated fats should be eaten in moderation. They occur in the oils of seeds and grains, such as sunflower, safflower and corn, and in soybeans and nuts. Polyunsaturated fats decrease LDL cholesterol but may also reduce the level of HDL cholesterol at very high levels.
Omega-3 oils are a type of polyunsaturated fat found in oily fish, canola-based oils and margarine, flaxseed and walnut oils. These may help reduce blood clotting, blood pressure and blood cholesterol levels.
Monounsaturated fats should be eaten in moderation. They are widely found in both animal and plant foods. Olive and canola oils are rich sources, as are avocados and peanuts. They decrease LDL cholesterol and increase HDL cholesterol.
Fat is hidden in processed food - read the label!
Changes everyone can make to eat well
- Eat generous amounts of fruit and vegetables (aim for at least eight servings each day). They contain high levels of vitamins that may protect against a High Blood cholesterol level.
- Choose plenty of wholegrain breads and cereals (at least six servings each day). They contain types of fibre that can help lower blood cholesterol levels.
- Include legumes (dried peas, beans, lentils) in meals.
- Choose lean meats (fat removed), poultry without skin, fish, and low fat milk, yoghurt and cheese.
- Prepare meals with as little added fat as possible. Grill, boil, steam, bake or microwave rather than fry.
- Use polyunsaturated or monounsaturated margarine or oil sparingly for thin spreading and cooking.
- If eating preprepared foods, snacks and meals choose those low in fat (especially saturated fat) and salt.
- Limit salt and alcohol intake.
For those with High Blood cholesterol
- Leave out full fat dairy food, meat fat or hardened vegetable fats in cooking or spreads and avoid commercially prepared foods with such ingredients. Also choose sterol-fortified margarine spreads.
- Limit red meat to about 150g a day.
- Eat fish at least twice weekly. Choose fish and shellfish with a high oil content such as tuna, kahawai, trevally, salmon, dory and sardines.
- Avoid preprepared foods, snacks and meals unless the fat and salt content are known.
If changing your diet and increasing your activity do not improve your High cholesterol levels, your doctor may advise you to take a cholesterol-lowering drug, depending on your other heart risk factors.
Revision date: July 6, 2011
Last revised: by Janet A. Staessen, MD, PhD