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Cardiovascular health and cholesterol

Eating a healthy fat profile is particularly important for maintaining a healthy heart. Blood pressure is created by the force of blood in your arteries being pumped around the body by your heart. Coronary heart disease occurs when you experience a narrowing of the arteries caused by a build-up of fatty deposits that stick to the artery walls and increase your blood pressure and cause blood clogs. If your blood pressure is consistently too high (an issue called hypertension) then it can put an extra strain on your heart and blood vessels which may lead to a stroke or other conditions including kidney disease. Blood clots can also increase your chances of a heart attack occurring if one of them blocks an artery of the heart, preventing the flow of blood and oxygen supply to the heart.

The risk of both coronary heart disease and high blood pressure can be increased through a number of factors such as your age, gender, smoking status, activity levels, genes and related diseases. However, they is a strong correlation between these issues and high saturated and trans-fat levels as well as obesity. The best way to reduce this risk is to manage your lifestyle through activities like reducing your weight, eating a healthy and varied diet, managing your alcohol intake, doing physical activity and not eating too much salt.

What about cholesterol?

Another fat you may have heard of is cholesterol. Cholesterol is a lipid that is essential for cell membranes and structures as well as the synthesis of hormones, fat-soluble vitamins and other substances. Your liver can manufacture cholesterol, but you can also get it from foods like meat, fish, egg and dairy products.

Similar to triglycerides, cholesterol combines with protein to form lipoproteins that can then be transported through the bloodstream. You may have heard of some of these lipoprotein complexes in their oversimplified abbreviations like HDL (high-density lipoprotein), LDL (low-density lipoprotein) or VLDL (very low-density lipoprotein).

Eating too much cholesterol can be very bad for your health, in particular your cardiovascular system. When there is excess cholesterol in the form of LDL and VLDL (aka the “Lousy Cholesterol”), the cholesterols can stick to the walls of your arteries and form plaque deposits that can block your arteries. Over time this plaque build-up prevents the blood from flowing normally and can lead to a heart attack, stroke or heart disease. HDL (aka the “Healthy Cholesterol”) works the other way and carries cholesterol out of the body tissues and back to the liver to be processed which helps to reduce the risk of heart disease.

HDL cholesterol is linked to unsaturated and polyunsaturated fats whilst LDL cholesterol is linked to saturated fats. Similar to Omega-3 and Omega-6, you should try to eat foods that will increase your HDL cholesterol levels whilst reduce your intake of foods to reduce your LDL cholesterol levels. The recommended daily allowance for cholesterol is less than 300 mg for a 2,000 calorie diet combined with regular exercise (which has been shown to increase levels of HDL).

HDL (‘Healthy’ Cholesterol)

LDL (‘Lousy’ Cholesterol)

HDL is linked to unsaturated fats, like nuts (except peanuts and cashews), seeds and oily fish (mackerel, herring, kippers, sardines, pilchards, salmon and fresh tuna).It is also found in fruit, vegetables and wholegrains (oat and wheat)

LDL cholesterol is linked to saturated fats, such as red meat (lamb, beef, pork, ham), processed meats (sausages, bacon), dairy produce (cheese, butter, yoghurt, full fat milk), commercially baked products (cakes, pastries, biscuits) and milk chocolate

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