With nearly half of adults in the UK living with raised cholesterol, we look at the simple changes you can make to your diet that could make a big impact
From the armies of joggers in your local park to changing attitudes towards vegan and vegetarian diets, the signs that the world is starting to take its health more seriously are everywhere.
A 2021 survey conducted by the British Nutrition Foundation reported that 62% of Britons had made a positive change to their diet to get healthier in recent years. However, you only need to look at the British Heart Foundation’s (BHF) latest data on cardiovascular disease to see that there’s still a lot of work to be done.
In August, the BHF reported that 7.6 million people were living with heart and circulatory diseases in the UK. Meanwhile, Heart UK — The Cholesterol Charity claims on its website that almost half of UK adults are at risk of heart attacks and strokes due to their cholesterol levels. It’s a reality check that couldn’t have come soon enough.
“While a healthy diet and lifestyle are important factors in maintaining cholesterol, the problem is that very few of us are achieving the recommendations,” says Lynne Garton, dietetic advisor at Heart UK — The Cholesterol Charity. “When we have too much cholesterol, it can clog up the arteries and lead to health problems in the future, including heart disease.”
High cholesterol is largely symptomless, which is why it’s been coined ‘the silent killer’. One of the most important things people should do is get tested, particularly those with a family history of early heart disease. In the meantime, however, if you’re concerned with your cholesterol levels, you can get to work immediately by rethinking some of the foods that you eat.
“If you want to lower your cholesterol, the key is to avoid highly processed foods and unhealthy fats, and follow a diet that’s filled with wholegrains, fibre, vitamins and healthy fats,” says Abigail Roberts, sports nutritionist at Bulk.com, an online health and nutrition store. Abigail recommends following a Mediterranean diet as it contains lots of those super ingredients, alongside fish-oil supplements rich in Omega-3, which can also be effective at lowering cholesterol levels. There are also plenty of easy and satisfying switches you can make for a healthier heart. “Try baking instead of frying, choose leaner cuts of red meat, or better still, opt for chicken instead,” she says.
When it comes to improving your heart health, there’s no time to lose, and being a little more mindful of what you put on your dinner plate each evening could make the all-important difference.
Three cholesterol-busting superfoods
Abigail recommends switching up your breakfast by having two servings of oats. “They can work to lower your LDL cholesterol levels by as much as 5.3% in just six weeks,” she says.
Omega-3 fats are natural health wonders and can help to ward off heart disease. Not only is salmon a great source of this, but it’s a high-protein, nutrient-dense food that’s packed with healthy unsaturated fat.
Studies show that adding a fistful of walnuts to your diet could lower bad cholesterol levels and reduce heart risks in otherwise healthy older adults. Almonds and cashews can also work wonders for your cholesterol levels.