What is cholesterol? A definition

What is cholesterol? A definition What is cholesterol? A definition

If you’re interested in finding out more about cholesterol, the best place to start is to talk to your doctor or healthcare professional. And, if you’re aged 40 to 74 then you can have an NHS Health Check which includes simple tests to check your risk of heart disease, type 2 diabetes and stroke. As part of these checks you’ll have a small sample of blood taken from your finger to check your cholesterol level. From these tests your doctor or healthcare professional will discuss what the results mean for you.

But, if you’d like more information you’ve come to the right place, from explaining the definition of cholesterol to offering handy diet and lifestyle tips the Flora ProActiv site is designed to provide you with lots of helpful information and resources, so that you can find the information you need to make positive changes to your lifestyle and diet. You can also visit and download our free eBook to find out more!

So – what does cholesterol mean?

A simple cholesterol definition

Cholesterol is a waxy, fat-like substance that occurs naturally in the body and is found in all cells. It has an important part to play in various vital processes in the body – but having too much cholesterol in the blood is one of the risk factors in the development of coronary heart disease. There are many risk factors for coronary heart disease, and it is important to take care of all of them to reduce the overall risk of it.

Cholesterol makes its way around the body in molecules called lipoproteins. There are two main kinds that are particularly important: LDL-cholesterol and HDL-cholesterol.

  • HDL (‘good’) cholesterol – HDL cholesterol carries cholesterol away from the arteries and back to the liver where it can be broken down. While lowering LDL-cholesterol is key, it’s a good idea to maintain ‘good’ HDL-cholesterol at or above the recommended level.
  • LDL (‘bad’) cholesterol –too much can cause fatty build-ups in the arteries. To maintain a healthy heart, try to keep LDL cholesterol at a lower, healthy level.

Your doctor may talk about non-HDL cholesterol.  This is because LDL was previously used as the main measure of bad cholesterol, and is still a good indicator, but we now know that other forms of non-HDL cholesterol, as well as LDL are also harmful, and this test may be a more accurate way of estimating risk.

Want to find out more? Check out these articles for more information on:

What is cholesterol used for?

Your body produces cholesterol because we need it to carry out a number of different functions – it’s an important component of cell membranes and a precursor of hormones and bile acids, which aid digestion.

What is a cholesterol level?

Your cholesterol level is determined via a blood test, and can be performed by your GP or pharmacist. The results might tell you not only the quantity, but also the kind of cholesterol in your blood. While you should be keeping your overall total cholesterol down, the ratio of HDL to total cholesterol may also be important, as HDL-cholesterol performs a different function to LDL-cholesterol. Speak to your healthcare professional if you are not sure what your test results mean for you. You can also find out more, including a general guide to typical healthy cholesterol levels, in the articles here:

 

What can I do about my cholesterol?

There are a number of things you can do to help lower your total cholesterol. These include:

  • Swapping foods high in saturated fats in your diet (e.g. sausages, chocolate, cakes, biscuits and pastries) for alternatives that are lower in saturated fat (check the label), and choose foods that contain unsaturated fats (e.g. rapeseed and olive oil, nuts, seeds and oily fish);
  • Maintain a healthy weight;
  • Introducing foods with added plant sterols or stanols to your diet, like the Flora ProActiv spreads or Flora ProActiv skimmed milk drink*;
  • Stop smoking and limit alcohol consumption.
  • Try to add soluble fibre into your diet.

 A healthy diet includes foods containing soluble fibre such as nuts, whole grains and pulses, fruits and vegetables. But, for cholesterol lowering you may want to try eating oats and barley, which have a special soluble fibre called beta–glucan.

If you want to continue to keep your body healthy, it’s important you’re aware of the impact diet and lifestyle choices can have on cholesterol levels Click on the links below to learn more about how to lower cholesterol, sign up for our 21 Day Challenge, or go straight to exploring our recipes and healthy lifestyle tips.

However, high cholesterol is only one out of multiple risk factors for heart disease, so you should aim to reduce your cholesterol alongside other diet and lifestyle changes to lower overall risk of heart disease. This will include eating a healthy balanced diet to maintain a healthy weight and blood pressure.

* Flora ProActiv contains plant sterols. A daily intake of 1.5 – 2.4g sterols can lower cholesterol by 7 – 10% in 2 – 3 weeks as part of a healthy diet and lifestyle including plenty of fruits and vegetables. High cholesterol is a risk factor in the development of coronary heart disease. As coronary heart disease has many risk factors, more than one may need to be improved to reduce overall risk. Individual results may vary.

BNF suggested references:

  1. British Nutrition Foundation (2019). CARDIOVASCULAR DISEASE: Diet, Nutrition and Emerging Risk Factors, 2nd Edition. Wiley Blackwell.
  2. NHS Digital. High cholesterol. (accessed 28/05/2019)
  3. Public Health England. The Eatwell Guide: Helping you eat a healthy, balanced diet. (accessed 28/05/2019)
  4. Commission Regulation (EU) No 686/2014 as 20 June 2014 amending Regulations (EC) No 983/2009 and (EU) No 384/2010 as regards the conditions of use of certain health claims related to the lowering effect of plant sterols and plant stanols on blood LDL-cholesterol. (accessed 20/05/2019)
  5. Department of Health and Social Care (2016). UK chief medical officers’ low risk drinking guidelines. (accessed 20/05/2019)

The British Nutrition Foundation has reviewed the accuracy of the scientific content of this page in May 2019 (please note this does not include linked pages). The Foundation does not endorse any brands or products.  For more information about the Foundation, please visit www.nutrition.org.uk