Be Heart Happy with a Healthy Cholesterol

By Caroline Donovan Heart News   |   28th Feb 2024

Cardiovascular disease is a leading cause of death in men and women in Ireland. For many with premature heart disease and stroke, this can be delayed or even prevented. We have established 8 Heart Healthy Habits that can help you to keep on top of your heart health.

These are:

In this week’s article we will be outlining how to control your cholesterol, the types of cholesterol to be aware of, and healthy cholesterol and triglycerides levels.

Having high cholesterol levels can be dangerous and can lead to increased risk of developing cardiovascular disease or stroke.

“Building healthy habits into your daily routine one by one can and will have a positive impact on your overall health. Cholesterol levels are very much modifiable, with diet and lifestyle key to helping to maintain healthy blood cholesterol levels.”

Caroline Donovan, CORU Registered Dietitian with the Irish Heart Foundation BSc., MSc., Pg. Dip

What is cholesterol?

Cholesterol is a type of fat found in your blood. You need a certain amount of cholesterol for your body cells to produce important hormones. However, if there is too much cholesterol found in your blood, it sticks to your artery walls to form atheroma or plaque. As a result of this process, your arteries become narrowed.

If an artery supplying the heart muscle becomes blocked completely, the heart muscle becomes damaged. This is known as a heart attack.

If an artery to the brain is completely blocked, it damages the brain. This is called a stroke. There are two main types of cholesterol: HDL and LDL

HDL (high-density lipoprotein) is known as ‘good’ cholesterol because it can help keep bad cholesterol in check by transporting it away from the arteries to the liver, where it is broken down and removed from the body. HDL cholesterol has been associated with a reduced risk of coronary heart disease.

LDL (Low density lipoproteins) is known as ‘bad’ cholesterol because it sticks to the artery walls forming a fatty plaque and causes narrowing of the arteries. This narrowing reduces the blood supply to your heart and brain. If the arteries that carry blood to your heart get damaged and blocked, it can lead to a heart attack. If this happens in the arteries that carry blood to your brain it can lead to a stroke.


How to check your cholesterol levels

There are often no signs of high cholesterol, so you should regularly get your blood pressure and cholesterol checked by your GP.

These tests are referred to as blood lipid tests, which tell you the levels of fats or cholesterol in your blood. The tests will generally report the level of total cholesterol, HDL- & LDL-cholesterol and triglycerides.

The numbers to look out for when it comes to cholesterol can be seen below.

Cholesterol and Triglycerides Healthy Levels:

For people with heart disease or diabetes:

If you have been diagnosed with high cholesterol you may have been given medications by your GP. Please ensure to continue taking your prescribed medication. These medications combined with leading a healthy lifestyle will help to manage your cholesterol levels.


How to prevent high cholesterol

There are many ways to help prevent high cholesterol:

Eat a healthy and balanced diet: A healthy diet, which is in line with the healthy eating guidelines (food pyramid)can reduce your cholesterol levels, reduce high blood pressure, and help you to manage your weight. Along with a healthy diet, eating foods that provide you with around 2 grams of plant stanols or sterols every day can reduce LDL cholesterol (the bad cholesterol) in our blood. You can read more on plant stanols or sterols here.

The level of cholesterol in your blood is affected by the amount of saturated fats you eat every day. This type of fat comes mainly from processed foods. Foods such as eggs, liver and shellfish contain dietary cholesterol. However, the amount of cholesterol in these foods does not greatly affect the amount of cholesterol in your blood. You can eat foods that contain cholesterol in moderation as part of a healthy varied diet. If you do not have a high blood cholesterol level, you can eat up to 7 eggs a week. However, if you have been diagnosed with a high cholesterol level, you may be advised to eat less eggs, depending on your diet.

Your weight impacts your overall heart disease risk. If additional fat is stored around our waist, this results in an apple shape. This shape is linked with a higher risk of causing heart disease, stroke, high blood pressure, diabetes, and some cancers. If the additional fat is stored around our hips this results in a pear shape and this shape is less harmful to your health

Be active: At least a 30-minute walk 5 days per week is recommended, but if walking isn’t your thing maybe you could try out muscle-strengthening activities 2-3 times a week. You can find some muscle- strengthening activities in the video It is also recommended that for older adults, activities which improve balance should be included 2-3 times per week. You can see some balancing activities here.

You can download our booklet on a Step by Step Guide through Inherited Heart Disease – Familial Hypercholesterolaemia, here.

Watch our secondary prevention video ‘Cardiac Rehab for All’ here.

If you choose to make some of these healthy lifestyle changes today, you can improve your heart health, mental health, social health, and your cholesterol.


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