What is cholesterol?
Cholesterol is a fatty substance found in the blood. A certain amount is essential for normal body function. High blood cholesterol is a risk factor for heart disease. Most of the cholesterol in your body is produced by you, not by foods containing cholesterol. However, blood cholesterol levels can become elevated if you eat too many foods high in saturated fat.
So, for most healthy people saturated fat intake is a more important factor than dietary cholesterol.
Know your fats
The fats found in food fall into three main groups. Each has a different effect on your cholesterol level:
- Saturated Fat
- Polyunsaturated Fat
- Monounsaturated Fat
Found mainly in butter, cream, lard, meat fat, chicken skin, cakes, biscuits, chocolate, crisps and deep-fried foods. Saturated fats increase your LDL cholesterol level.
Polyunsaturated Fats - PUFA
Found mainly in vegetable oils such as sunflower, safflower, corn and soya bean. Brazil nuts, walnuts and oily fish are also rich sources of this type of fat.
PUFAs in small amounts can help to lower LDL cholesterol levels. Fish oils are a type of PUFA which help blood circulation and reduce blood clotting.
Monounsaturated Fats - MUFA
Found mainly in olive, peanut and rapeseed oils as well as avocados, olives, almonds, hazelnuts and peanuts.
MUFA in moderate amounts can help lower LDL cholesterol levels and maintain HDL cholesterol levels.
What is meant by good & bad cholesterol?
Two forms of cholesterol exist in your body.
High Density Lipoprotein - good cholesterol
Picks up excess cholesterol from the walls of the blood vessels and eliminates it from the body.
Regular exercise can help maintain a high level of this good cholesterol
Low Density Lipoprotein - bad cholesterol
Carries cholesterol around the body and can deposit it in the walls of blood vessels.
Eating foods high in saturated fat and being overweight can lead to an increased level of this bad cholesterol
Where does beef fit in as part of a healthy diet?
Lean beef is low in fat and can be included in a heart healthy diet. The fat content of lean beef is similar to that of white chicken meat and is a mixture of the three different types of fat. Indeed, studies have shown that lean red meat is as effective as chicken in maintaining or even lowering cholesterol levels.
Over half of the fat in meat is monounsaturated and so contributes to maintaining healthy fat levels in the blood.
Unlike most other foods, almost all the fat in meat is visible and can be trimmed away. It is an excellent source of dietary iron and high in vitamin A and the B group vitamins as well as zinc, copper, magnesium, potassium and phosphate.
Tips to be physically active
Being active has many health benefits such as:
- healthier heart, blood and lungs
- stronger bones
- less body fat
- improved stress management
- more energy and 'feel good' factor
- Be active at least five days of the week, work towards 30 minutes of moderate physical activity, enough to make you feel warm and puffed!
- Build up your level of activity gradually, every little helps, for example, park further from where you want to go and walk the rest.
- Choose activities you enjoy, for example, gardening, DIY or walking.
The level of activity for you depends on:
- Your age and general health.
- How active you have been in the last few months.
- What you enjoy doing and suits your lifestyle.
- If in doubt about how much you should exercise, consult your G.P.
Are you a healthy weight
Being overweight may increase your cholesterol level. Therefore, an important step for a heart healthy diet should be to achieve and maintain a healthy body weight.
Check where you weight and height meet on this chart. If you are in the overweight or obese sections, losing weight will improve your overall health.
Lean beef is low in fat and can be included in a heart healthy diet. To maintain the health benefits of lean beef when cooking:
- Choose a cooking method that does not increase the overall fat content of the meal e.g grill, boil, braise or roast.
- If you do fry, use a non-stick pan with a light coating of a vegetable oil such as sunflower or olive oil.
- When roasting beef, avoid using extra fat or oil. Serve with boiled, baked or mashed potatoes instead of high fat roast or fried varieties.