Here’s your guide to the good, the bad and the fake news on cholesterol.
There are many aspects of getting healthy that can be a little confusing.
Low-calorie diet or low carb?
No sugar or no gluten?
Long-distance running or yoga?
When it comes to cholesterol things get particularly tricky.
Most people aren’t exactly sure what cholesterol really is and, even if they are, there’s a lot of complex information out there that makes knowing how to keep cholesterol under control harder.
In this article we’ll tackle some of the myths that circulate about cholesterol, so you know exactly what you need to do to stay happy and healthy. Let’s go.
Myth #1: All cholesterol is bad cholesterol
Firstly, when we think of cholesterol it’s easy to assume that it’s one thing – and that thing is definitely very bad.
This isn’t quite the case.
There are actually a few different types of cholesterol and, for some of these, it’s important to have more not less. In essence, cholesterol is a fatty substance produced by the liver which carries out a range of important processes in our blood. We all need some cholesterol.
One type of cholesterol however is more beneficial to us than others. HDL cholesterol is the type we should be aiming to increase, whereas LDL cholesterol is the kind we shouldn’t have too much of.
There are also other types of cholesterol that can be problematic. These are all referred to as non-HDL cholesterol. The British Heart Foundation are working hard to fund and lead research into good and bad cholesterol, and working on ways to reduce the risk high cholesterol poses, leading to heart disease and more.
Myth #2: Cholesterol depends on what we eat
Until recently, it was thought that cholesterol gets into our system from the food we eat. As a result, people were told not to eat foods with high levels of cholesterol.
Things like shellfish, avocados and eggs are all high cholesterol foods. Hang on, no avo on toast? Sit tight for a minute.
We now know that our cholesterol levels are not affected by eating foods like this so, when it comes to high cholesterol foods to avoid, it’s more about the type of fat they contain rather than their cholesterol content.
Very good news for avo on toast fanatics.
Foods high in saturated fat will increase our LDL cholesterol levels whereas foods high in unsaturated fat will increase our HDL cholesterol levels.
Myth #3: You’ll know if you have high cholesterol
The problem with having high cholesterol is that you often don’t know about it.
Occasionally people will get external signs, like lumps around their eyes, but most of the time you can be walking around with sky high levels of bad cholesterol and not be aware.
That’s why it’s important to get it checked out by a health professional and see what your levels are. Knowledge is power.
Myth #4: Everyone has high cholesterol – it’s no big deal
It’s easy to feel like this when you hear about cholesterol all the time and talk to other people about their cholesterol levels.
But if you’re relating to this right now, you need to check yourself.
Having high cholesterol has become common – but it’s still just as problematic in the long run. Always take the issue seriously.
Some people in the UK that don’t even know they have a cholesterol disorder but, if you think it could run in the family, you should chat to your doctor. They will also be able to talk to you about the particular risks of having high cholesterol, depending on your health status.
They’ll also tailor advice about options if your cholesterol is raised, including whether you should try medication.
Myth #5: You can completely control your own cholesterol
Taking action to improve your health including reducing LDL cholesterol levels is really important, but it’s worth also noting that cholesterol isn’t only determined by the things we can control.
There are lots of different reasons why you might have problems with cholesterol – including your age, ethnic background and family history. Other health problems, such as an underactive thyroid gland and liver disease, can also cause your levels to go up.
However, we can still make a difference. Cholesterol levels are, in part, determined by diet (see above), not getting enough exercise, smoking and having too much body fat especially around your waist.
So, pull your belt in, and start doing some good.
Myth #6: It’s really difficult to find out my cholesterol levels
This is another important myth that needs busting. And, to be honest, it feels more like an excuse than a myth too.
A lot of people put off checking their cholesterol because they think it’s going to be a very complicated process. In fact, for most people over 40 or 45 (depending on your local area) an NHS Health Check at your local GP surgery should do the trick, and your cholesterol will be checked on the spot.
That means no waiting for blood test results to come back, they can tell you then and there. You don’t need to fast before the test, it’s literally just about booking an appointment and turning up.
This is a really great thing to do as it gives you an overall picture of your health and you’ll get advice on things to improve.
Myth #7: Exercise can’t shift cholesterol
When people think about controlling cholesterol, their mind often turns to changing diet and taking medications.
But exercise is also a really important factor.
Keeping active, whatever your age, can have a significant impact on your cholesterol levels, bringing down bad cholesterol and raising up good cholesterol. The NHS recommends getting at least 150 minutes of cardiovascular exercise every week, and that means something that increases your heart rate and gets you out of breath.
Walking to the shop to pick up an avocado doesn’t count.
This should then be combined with exercise that helps strengthen muscles, like yoga, weight lifting or simply carrying heavy shopping bags on your walk home. Then that’s okay.
So, seven myths about cholesterol debunked – with everything you need to know about why they aren’t correct. Now you know the truth about high cholesterol foods, what affects your cholesterol and what you can do about it.
Remember, raised bad cholesterol levels can cause issues in the long term so it’s important to know your status and take action if required. This doesn’t need to mean changing your whole life or living like a monk, small simple changes can make a big impact, keeping you healthy and happy for longer.