We all know that high cholesterol should be avoided, but how many of us know if we’re at risk? Even those of us who maintain a reasonable weight and eat a fairly healthy diet can find that our cholesterol is much higher than we expect. The government recommendation for an adult’s cholesterol level is below 5, and it is straightforward to get yours checked. If it is higher than the recommended level, don’t panic! There are steps you can take to immediately start reducing your levels and lowering the risk of further health problems.
If you are concerned, visit your GP who will also be able to advise you on how to manage your levels going forward and, if your cholesterol is too high, whether medication – typically statins – is also advisable. Medication should only be taken under guidance from your GP, and it is essential that you avoid foods which are high in cholesterol to get the best results. Regular check-ups with your GP will ensure you are on the right track, highlight any potential risks and provide a record of your progress.
So what should be avoided? Obviously, fatty foods and anything deep-fried are top of the list, and for many of us, this is terrible news! Nowadays we seem to have less time to cook a healthy meal from scratch, and it is much easier to grab a takeaway or snack on fast food. This is notorious for containing extremely high content of fats, oil, salt and sugars, and many of these foods have little nutritional content. The occasional takeaway is fine, but why not knock up a stir-fry loaded with veg and strips of chicken? Only a little oil is needed, and olive oil is a healthier alternative to hydrogenated vegetable oil, as it has a high content of monounsaturated fat.
Margarine is another contributor to high cholesterol levels as it contains trans-fats which raise cholesterol levels in the blood. Butter has been recognised as less detrimental so if you can, substitute margarine with butter but don’t apply it to your toast with a trowel – it’s still very high in fat!
Fatty meats, such as lamb or foods like burgers and sausages should be avoided, particularly anything usually fried in oil. Switch to grilling instead, and even make your own burgers using lean beef mince or even turkey mince, which you can pack out with spicy breadcrumbs and herbs for extra flavour. The liver is the organ which produces cholesterol but is also a very popular ingredient in dishes, so this should probably come off the menu for now.
Cheese, including cream cheese, should be avoided if you are trying to reduce your cholesterol. There are low-fat and fat-free alternatives available if you can’t give these things up entirely, and as cheese is a good source of calcium and protein, there is no need to boycott it completely.
Ice cream is not recommended as part of a cholesterol-reducing diet! Full of cream, fats and sugars, this is definitely a no-go area, but there are plenty of low-fat ice cream products on the market, or you can make your own slushies and lollies by blitzing up a variety of fresh fruit.
By avoiding these foods, you’ll start noticing results within a couple of months, so it really will be worth it!