One often hears another saying “I have high cholesterol.”

What is cholesterol? It is a kind of fat found in our bodies and is needed for good health. However high levels of cholesterol can lead to heart disease.

There are two types of cholesterol, good cholesterol (HDL or High Density Lipoprotein) and bad cholesterol (LDL or Low Density Lipoprotein). Cholesterol is injected in our blood stream and is produced by our liver.

High levels of LDL cholesterol cause hardening of the arteries or arthrososclerosis. The blood vessels become narrower and inflexible, leading to risk of stroke and heart disease. Sometimes you get symptoms such as chest pain or pain in the leg when you exercise.

HDL cholesterol on the other hand, reduces the risk of heart disease as it can remove the excess cholesterol from the arteries.

The cholesterol levels in the body depends on what we eat and the amount that is produced by the liver. The natural production of cholesterol also depends on your genes. You could be genetically predisposed to higher levels of cholesterol. If the liver produces a lot of cholesterol, it can lead to the formation of gall stones. If we eat a lot of fatty food that contains saturated fats, trans fat and cholesterol, then the total cholesterol and LDL cholesterol levels in our body will rise. Being overweight also increases LDL cholesterol. High cholesterol levels are also associated with high blood levels of triglycerides (fats).

All said, having cholesterol is not a disease but the level of cholesterol is an indicator of the risk of developing heart disease. So we should know what levels of cholesterol we have. How can we know our level of cholesterol?

Levels of cholesterol are measured by a blood test, before which you have to fast overnight and have your blood drawn for testing early the next morning. After your blood has been taken, you can then eat your breakfast. It is pointless to take the blood test if you did not fast because the results would not be accurate.

How can cholesterol levels be reduced?

The first step is to change our eating habits. We must cut down consumption of meat and full-fat dairy products, pastries and pies which contain hidden fats.

We should eat more vegetables, fruit, whole grains and fish (do not fry the fish). Eating food that contains soluble fiber such as legumes, oats and psyllium will promote the excretion of cholesterol. Nuts, especially walnuts, seeds, onion, garlic and olive oil will also help to reduce cholesterol levels.

If you drink, you need to limit yourself to two standard size drinks a day and it is best to quit smoking because it increases the risk of heart disease, cancer and it also aggravates the effects of high cholesterol levels.

Exercise is very important as it can benefit those who have high cholesterol levels. Brisk walking every day for at least 40 minutes will promote better health as it strengthens your immune system and boosts your metabolic rate, thus helping you to lose weight and to keep fit. Maintaining a healthy weight will help to keep your cholesterol levels within normal range.