Many factors affect the blood cholesterol level including diet, ethnicity and family history of the condition. However, an unhealthy diet is one of the modifiable risk factors for hypercholesterolemia and eating a balanced diet that is low in saturated fats is one of the important steps a person can take to reduce their risk of developing a high blood cholesterol.
Some of the ways in which cholesterol levels are affected by food intake are described below:
Carbohydrates increase the blood triglyceride level, which leads to an increase in the liver’s production of very low-density lipoproteins (VLDLs). These triglyceride-rich VLDLs interact with low-density lipoproteins (LDLs) or “bad” cholesterol to increase the number of small LDL particles. Small LDL particles are more prone to oxidation and are more readily taken up by white blood cells present in the artery walls and atherosclerotic plaques.
These fats are synthetic fats produced by the addition of hydrogen to vegetable oils, to solidify them. These fats are found in fried foods and baked produce such as pastries, dough and cookies.
A diet rich in saturated fat increases the LDL level. Saturated fats are found in sausages, butter, meat pies, ghee or clarified butter, lard, cream, cheese, cakes, and coconut or palm oil.
Saturated fats should be replaced by unsaturated fats, which increase the level of high-density lipoproteins (HDLs) or “good” cholesterol. HDLs carry cholesterol away from cells to the liver, where it can be broken down and processed as waste. Foods that are high in unsaturated fats include avocados, nuts, seeds, oily fish, sunflower oil, rapeseed oil and olive oil.
Fruits, vegetables and dietary fibre
People should follow a diet rich in wholegrains, fruit and vegetables to help lower cholesterol levels. People should aim to consume five portions of fruit and vegetables every day.
Reviewed by Sally Robertson, BSc