Friday, June 30, 2006


1∙ Cholesterol is an important part of every tissue in the body - in other words, our bodies require it to function. But we don't necessarily have to eat cholesterol-laden foods to fulfil those needs because the body is able to manufacture cholesterol by itself.

2∙ Cholesterol only becomes a problem when it becomes attached to the walls of the arteries (blood vessels that carry oxygen-rich blood away from the heart). This narrows the arteries and so increases the risk of heart disease. The higher your cholesterol level is, the more likely this is to happen.

3∙ Cholesterol travels through the blood in parcels called lipoproteins Low-density lipoproteins (LDLs) are known as "bad cholesterol", as the LDLs stick to artery walls. But high-density lipoproteins (HDLs) are "good cholesterol", actually helping to remove LDLs from the blood. The type of food you eat plays a big part in determining the proportion of LDLs to HDLs in your blood.

4∙ Male sex hormones decrease HDL levels and so may increase the risk of heart disease in men. But in middle age, differences between the sexes diminish as levels in both rise.

5∙ There is a genetic condition, called hypercholesterolaemia, that raises cholesterol levels dangerously high. It is treatable with diet and drugs but the earlier it is diagnosed, the better. It affects one person in 500. If you think that it runs in your family, see a doctor about being tested for it.

6∙ High cholesterol levels are a major contributory factor to coronary heart disease, which kills more than 140,000people in the UK each year. It's our commonest cause of death - one in five of us will have a heart attack beforewe reach the age of 65.

7∙ A recent MORI poll showed that one in four Britons thinks all fats are bad for us. Despite this, fats account for more than 40 per cent of the calories in the average British diet. Newspaper reports about Frenchmen who live to theage of 100 on a diet of nothing goose fat and cigarettes and health-food fanatics who die of heart disease at 40 are misleading. Don't be fooled. Eat badly and you put yourself at greater risk of dying young.

8∙ Saturated fats or "saturates" are the real villains in the cholesterol story. Foods high in saturates include dairy products, red meats, lard, some margarines, cakes, biscuits, chocolates, puddings, pastries and crisps. Saturates raise LDL cholesterol levels. Don't let them make up more than 10 per cent of your daily intake.

9∙ Beware of labels that declare "contains hydrogenated vegetable oil/fat". They may not be telling the whole story - the product could contain saturated fats as well. They are lurking in many a "healthy" snack.

10∙ Not all types of fat are bad for you. Unsaturated fats can actually reduce cholesterol levels and may stop some of the damage caused by saturates. You'll find them in oily fish, sunflower, olive and corn oils and some margarines. But restrict them to 20 per cent of your calorie intake - fats, after all, are fattening.

11∙ The soluble fibre found in pulses and cereals can help lower your blood cholesterol. And fresh fruit and vegetables can reduce the deposition of cholesterol in the arteries. Make sure you eat plenty of them!

12∙ Shellfish, kidneys, liver and cod's roe are frequently said to be "high in cholesterol". They're high in dietary cholesterol, but eating them won't raise your blood cholesterol nearly as much as saturates will. Don't eat them every day, though.

13∙ Your cholesterol level maybe fine, but don't assume your heart is - raised cholesterol is only one risk factor. Being overweight, not exercising enough, smoking, drinking too much and eating the wrong foods all put a strain on it, too.

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