It is important to check your cholesterol to reduce the chance of cardiac problems later in life.
It is important to check your cholesterol to reduce the chance of cardiac problems later in life. Contributed

Understand cholesterol

WE HEAR the term bandied about on TV, in magazines and in conversation but do you actually know what cholesterol is, what a healthy level is or how high your own level is?

For 71% of Queenslanders the answer is no, a new survey has found.

The survey, commissioned by Uncle Tobys Oats, found not only do two thirds of Australians not know what constitutes a healthy cholesterol level, but almost half (48%) have never had their cholesterol levels checked.

It also found that 31% of Gen Y (18-29 year olds) believe they are too young to worry about cholesterol.

Sunshine Coast Australian Medical Association Queensland president Dr Mason Stevenson said he was not surprised by the results as cholesterol could be somewhat confusing.

Despite its negative connotations, cholesterol is an essential type of fat that is carried in the blood.

“Cholesterol is naturally produced in the body prominently by the liver but is also dependant on dietary fat and cholesterol,” Dr Stevenson said.

All the body’s cells need cholesterol for internal and external membranes, it is also essential for a healthy cardiovascular and central nervous system.

The body generally makes all the cholesterol it needs itself, the problem is when too much saturated fat is consumed which leads to unhealthy levels of “bad” cholesterol which then becomes a risk factor for coronary artery disease such as heart attacks and angina.

Dr Stevenson explained the perfect level of cholesterol is 4.5mmol a litre.

“In Australia the average level of cholesterol is 5.5mmol a litre compared to an average of 4.2mmol a litre in Japan,” Dr Stevenson said.

“This reflects the Western diet which is high in animal fat as opposed to the far healthier Eastern diet, which has high levels of rice and vegetables and fish that the Western diet lacks.”

While 4.5mmol a litre is the ideal level of cholesterol Dr Stevenson said this level was hard to achieve.

“Unless you are blessed with great genes or are a strict vegetarian or on strict cholesterol lowering medicine, it is very difficult to achieve the perfect level,” he said.

But if your cholesterol level is 6.5mmol a litre or greater your risk of heart disease is about four times greater than someone with a healthy cholesterol level. But not all people with high cholesterol levels get heart disease.

“Unless cholesterol levels are extreme, greater than 9mmol/litre then it is not inherently evil,” Dr Stevenson said.

“If you have other risk factors such as obesity, smoking, hypertension, sedentary lifestyle, diabetes, then cholesterol becomes a greater risk.”

To reduce cholesterol naturally Dr Stevenson recommends a diet low in animal fat and high in vegetables as well as 30 minutes of daily moderate exercise.

If you are overweight, weight loss will greatly help with lowering cholesterol levels. If you change your diet you can expect cholesterol levels to drop by 10%.

How to lower your cholesterol

The most effective way to lower your cholesterol is to reduce the amount of animal fat in your diet.

To do this:

  • Reduce cheese intake and substitute low fat varieties
  • Choose reduced fat milks
  • Use polyunsaturated or monounsaturated margarine or oils instead of butter
  • Choose lean cuts of meat and remove all visible fat
  • Eat skinless chicken, fish or beans
  • Beware of hidden fat in pies, pasties, fish and chips and commercial cakes
  • Make cakes at home with polyunsaturated fat, cook chips with polyunsaturated or monounsaturated oil
  • If you are overweight it helps to lose some weight

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