“Many people have high cholesterol without realising it and only discover it when they have a blood test,” said Dr Sarah Brewer, Healthspan Medical Director. “Most people have no warning signs of high cholesterol which is why it is important to have an annual check as levels can increase with age.” While the condition is considered to be silent, it doesn’t mean it isn’t harmful as it can risk your cardiovascular health.
The expert shared that a plant-based diet could help to retrieve your levels from the red zone.
But Dr Brewer added: “For most people cholesterol in the diet has very little effect on blood cholesterol levels but several other dietary factors will affect blood cholesterol.
“One of the most important is the amount and the type of fat we eat.”
The reason why fat plays such a crucial role seems to be down to your liver cells, according to Heart UK.
READ MORE: High cholesterol: The warning signs in your body pointing to ‘excess cholesterol’
The charity explains that your liver cells have so-called LDL receptors on them.
Once LDL cholesterol – also known as “bad” – hits the bloodstream, these receptors take the cholesterol out of the blood and into your liver to be broken down.
However, research suggests that having too much saturated fat stops the receptors “from working so well”, leaving the fatty substance to build up in your blood.
There are different types of fat and saturated represents the one risky for your cholesterol.
The NHS recommends cutting down on this type of fat which can be found in foods including:
- Meat pies, sausages and fatty meat
- Butter, lard and ghee
- Cream and hard cheese (cheddar)
- Cakes and biscuits
- Food that contains coconut oil or palm oil.
Fortunately, this doesn’t mean you can’t eat any fat at all. Unsaturated fats are considered “healthier”.
Plus, research shows that eating foods packed in unsaturated fat in the place of saturated fats can help improve your levels.
This type of fat can be found in the likes of vegetable oils or oily fish, including mackerel and salmon.
Dr Brewer added: “Nutritionists believe that one of the reasons that people in Mediterranean countries, like Greece and Southern Italy, have a much lower rate of heart disease compared with those in northern European countries, like our own, is because the typical Mediterranean diet is high in monounsaturated fats while ours is high in saturated fat.
“Saturated ‘animal’ fats – the type of fat found in full fat dairy products and fatty cuts of meat has been shown to increase levels to LDL ‘bad’ cholesterol and reduce HDL ‘good’ cholesterol.
“Unsaturated fats, found in foods such as olive oil help to lower LDL cholesterol.”
Another dietary component that could see your levels fall is plant sterols.
The expert said: “Plant sterols (e.g. 800mg three times a day) lower cholesterol levels by blocking cholesterol absorption in the gut.
“A sterol rich diet can lower levels of harmful LDL-cholesterol by around 15 percent.
“Because statins work in a different way to plant sterols, the two can be used together to lower cholesterol levels even further.”
Plant sterols can be found in foods fortified with these plant goodies.
In the UK, brands like Flora and Benecol use plant sterols in a range of their products, such as butter, dairy drinks, yoghurts and more.