Cholesterol. Everything You Need To Know

October was National Cholesterol Awareness Month which means the media throw out multiple scaremongering headlines, which is why here at TTC we’ve got your back and want to share with you the ins and outs of cholesterol.

We want you to make light of some these messages and realise it might not be all that bad. In fact, despite the fact cholesterol often getting a bad rep it’s actually vital to our overall health. Let us explain:


  1. Cholesterol is essential for our hormone production. It allows our adrenals and sex organs to produce hormones such as cortisol, testosterone and oestrogen to name a few.
  2. Cholesterol is also essential in the production of bile. Bile is essential for the absorption and digestion of fats and fat-soluble vitamins. E.g. vitamins A,D, E and K.
  3. Cholesterol is also vital for contributing to our cell structure and helps to protect the outside of the cells.


The different types of cholesterol


You may have heard about ‘good cholesterol’ and ‘bad cholesterol’. There are multiple types of cholesterol but without going to Einstein on you we’ve broken it down into the most important types.


Low-density lipoprotein (LDL)-  often referred to as ‘bad cholesterol’. This type can stick to the inside of blood vessels which in turn will increase the risks of atherosclerosis and heart disease. Smoking, lack of exercise and diet can play a role in raising LDL. With regards to diet consuming too much saturated and trans fats in the forms of hydrogenated vegetable oils, processed foods, red meat, cheese etc. all contributed to raised LDL.


High-density lipoprotein (HDL)- often referred to as ‘good’ cholesterol. A key role of HDL is to remove LDL. Therefore if you have raised HDL this is actually beneficial for you as it means there’s more to remove the LDL which can prevent plaque build up. Foods which contribute to raised HDL include: nuts, seeds, olives, olive oil, avocados, hummus etc.


How to lower high cholesterol?


This might be the key reason you’re reading this article. It’s important to note that each case is unique and some forms of high cholesterol such as familial hypercholesterolaemia is genetic although for the most part here are our top tips.

Firstly, you should ask your GP for a breakdown of your total cholesterol. This means that you want to see the values for LDL and HDL. Your main concern should be if your LDL is higher than 3mmol.L. Some research has suggested that by lowering your LDL by 1mmol.L you can reduce your risk of cardiovascular disease by 22%.


Top tips for lowering cholesterol…


Limit saturated fat intake


Focus on limiting your intake of red and processed meat, cheese, butter, palm oil and hydrogenated vegetable oils in processed foods. Swap butter for fortified spreads or peanut butter. Peanut butter is high in monounsaturated fats which contributes to increasing HDL. It’s important that you start reading labels to understand the amount of saturated fats in the foods you’re consuming regularly. Foods which contain more than 5g per 100g of saturated fat are considered high. Foods which contain 1.5g or less are considered low. It’s also recommended to start incorporating more beans and pulses into your diet too. 


Plant Sterols and Stanols


Plant sterols and stanols have been shown to help lower cholesterol as they block it’s absorption into the blood. As a result more cholesterol is excreted rather than being absorbed. Plant sterols and stanols can be found in fortified foods such as spreads, yoghurts and drinks although be aware that some contain large amounts of sugar and should not be over consumed.


Consume beta-glucans


Beta-glucans are fibres which are found naturally in plants. These work in a way which is similar to the plant stanols as they too prevent the uptake of cholesterol into the blood. Research has demonstrated that beta-glucans help to reduce LDL cholesterol but have no effect on raising HDL. Individuals with diabetes showed to have even greater effects from consuming beta-glucans. Oats, barely, mushrooms and seaweed are all rich in beta-glucans.


Consume your 5-a-day


It’s no surprise that fruits and vegetables are a good source of fibre. As a result they help to keep you fuller for longer meaning that this can help you to consume less processed foods. Research has also shown an association with those who consumed more than four portions of fruit and vegetables a day having a lower LDL cholesterol.


Move Regularly


Whilst this isn’t exactly nutrition related. Here at The Transformation Chef we believe that health requires a 360˚ approach. Aerobic exercise has been shown to have positive effects on HDL cholesterol.  The NICE guidelines suggest that you engage in 120 minutes of of aerobic exercise a week. That doesn’t  mean that you have to pound it out in the gym it can be a simple half an hour walk, a yoga session online or even an activity such as rock climbing. It’s important that you enjoy your movement!


Often, being told you have high cholesterol can leave you feeling scared and lost. However, through dietary and lifestyle changes you can help to lower your cholesterol. Please do pass this article on to any of your friends or family who may be concerned about their cholesterol. Knowledge is power!


Smet, E. D., Mensink, R. P., & Plat, J. (2012). Effects of plant sterols and stanols on intestinal cholesterol metabolism: suggested mechanisms from past to present. Molecular nutrition & food research56(7), 1058-1072.


Whitehead, A., Beck, E. J., Tosh, S., & Wolever, T. M. (2014). Cholesterol-lowering effects of oat β-glucan: a meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials–. The American journal of clinical nutrition100(6), 1413-1421.


Othman, R. A., Moghadasian, M. H., & Jones, P. J. (2011). Cholesterol‐lowering effects of oat β‐glucan. Nutrition reviews69(6), 299-309.


Djoussé, L., Arnett, D. K., Coon, H., Province, M. A., Moore, L. L., & Ellison, R. C. (2004). Fruit and vegetable consumption and LDL cholesterol: the national heart, lung, and blood institute family heart study. The American journal of clinical nutrition79(2), 213-217.


Kodama, S., Tanaka, S., Saito, K., Shu, M., Sone, Y., Onitake, F., ... & Ohashi, Y. (2007). Effect of aerobic exercise training on serum levels of high-density lipoprotein cholesterol: a meta-analysis. Archives of internal medicine167(10), 999-1008.