healthpro Explains Cholesterol

High Cholesterol

healthpro Dietetic Clinic explains cholesterol

Cholesterol, a naturally occuring substance produced by the liver within the body, is essential for the maintenance of healthy cells and the synthesis of bile and steroid hormones. Too much cholesterol in the circulation however, is a major risk factor for the development of cardiovascular disease (CVD), currently the most significant cause of mortality in Ireland.

Blood cholesterol levels are typically reported as total cholesterol, high density lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol, and low density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol in units of mmol/l. The terms LDL cholesterol and HDL cholesterol are actually something of a misnomer however. More accurately they are particles of fat and protein which transport cholesterol around the body, as opposed to being cholesterol themselves. LDLs facilitate the movement of cholesterol to tissues of the body and, due to their high fat and low protein composition (hence, low-density), are implicated in the development of arterial plaques, or atheromas, a build up of rigid material on the internal wall of an artery. Such plaques can restrict, or even block blood flow entirely to major organs such as the heart and brain, thus contributing to heart attack or stroke events. Conversely, HDLs, with their low proportion of fat to protein (thus, high-density) have protective effects, transporting cholesterol away from tissues and back to the liver where it can be re-used or broken down for excretion. For these reasons, high levels of LDL may increase your risk of developing CVD, even if your total cholesterol is low, while high levels of HDL may decrease your risk, regardless of total cholesterol levels.  

Current guidelines for healthy adults recommend that total cholesterol should be maintained less than 5, LDL less than 3, and HDL greater than 1 mmol/l. Whilst genetic inheritance may mean certain individuals are predisposed to an unfavourable cholesterol profile, for a majority, improvements to lifestyle factors such as the following may be highly significant in optimal cholesterol regulation;

  • Maintain your optimum body weight. Overweight and obesity increase CVD risk.
  • Increase physical activity levels. Aerobic exercise in particular may have a beneficial effect on HDL levels.
  • Increase fruit and vegetable intake, aiming for 1-2 portions of fruit, and 3 - 4 portions of vegetables each day.
  • Eat more wholegrain varieties of cereals, bread, pasta, and rice, and eat fruit and vegetables with the skin intact where possible.
  • Reduce intake of saturated fats by selecting lean meats, trimming off excess fat, removing the skin from chicken, and draining oil off cooked meats such as mince meat.
  • Choose low-fat spreads made from sunflower or olive oil. 
  • Increase intake of unsaturated fats by eating oily fish twice per week and include foods such as avocadoes, nuts (cashews, almonds, and peanuts), and seeds regularly in the diet. 
  • Grill, oven-bake, or steam food rather than fry.
  • Reduce intake of foods from the top shelf of the food pyramid such as cakes, biscuits, and pastries.  

If you require further information and advice on cholesterol management, please contact the healthpro team to arrange a consultation with a healthpro dietitian. 


© healthpro / 2014

Published on 3 June 2014 | Back to June Articles