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What is cholesterol?
Cholesterol is a fatty substance carried in the blood by proteins, and is vital for normal body function.
There are two types of cholesterol - low-density lipoprotein (LDL), which transports cholesterol from the liver to cells within the body that need it, and high-density lipoprotein (HDL), which carries cholesterol away from the cells, returning them to the liver where they are broken down.
LDL is commonly referred to as "bad cholesterol", as too much can build up in the artery walls, which in turn can lead to heart problems.
An unhealthy diet and lack of exercise are known to contribute to high cholesterol. While many foods such as liver, kidneys and eggs, contain dietary cholesterol, it is the amount of saturated fat you consume that causes the trouble. A sedentary lifestyle can be similarly dangerous, as it can increase the level of low-density lipoprotein (LDL), otherwise known as "bad cholesterol". It goes without saying that obesity is a major contributor as it is often as a result of both of the above.
Drinking excessive amounts of alcohol and smoking are also often to blame for the narrowing of the arteries, and those with high blood pressure or diabetes, or who have a family history of heart disease or stroke are also at greater risk of developing a problem.
How can I prevent high cholesterol?
Diet is particularly important if you are looking to prevent high cholesterol or lower your cholesterol. Too much saturated fat is to be avoided - so be careful how often you indulge in processed meats, full-fat dairy products, cakes and biscuits. The NHS recommends that the average man should eat no more than 30g of saturated fat each day, and the figure is 20g for women.
Unsaturated fats can be helpful, however, as they will increase the level of good cholesterol in the blood - oily fish, avocados, nuts and seeds, and sunflower, rapeseed or olive oil are all high in unsaturated fat. Combine these with a low-fat diet containing plenty of fibre in the form of wholegrain rice, bread, pasta, fruit and veg for a healthy balanced diet.
Keeping active can also help to reduce cholesterol levels by increasing "good cholesterol" and stimulating the body to move the "bad cholesterol" to the liver where it can be broken down. Just 30 minutes of moderate exercise, five days a week is all that's needed to keep you fit and healthy.
Quitting cigarettes, which contain a chemical that stops bad cholesterol moving to the liver, and cutting down on the booze will also stand you in good stead when it comes to your heart.
Measuring your blood cholesterol level is done by way of a simple blood test, which can be carried out by your GP or nurse. If you are concerned about high cholesterol or are keen to make sure you are not at risk of developing heart problems, visit your doctor.