Cholesterol – the facts
Cardiovascular disease remains the top global cause of mortality and elevated LDL-cholesterol is accepted as a key risk factor for heart disease and lowering cholesterol is the way out.
Cholesterol and cardiovascular disease
Cardiovascular disease is predicted to remain the number one global cause of mortality for decades. Recent calculations show that a high cholesterol level in the blood is responsible for almost 12% of all deaths in Australia1.
Elevated LDL-cholesterol is widely accepted as a key modifiable risk factor for coronary heart disease, yet around half the adult population in Australia has cholesterol levels higher than recommended2.
Epidemiological and intervention studies estimate that on average lowering cholesterol by 10% will reduce the risk of coronary heart disease by up to 20%.
Medications such as statins and fibrates are available and can be a very effective solution for people with elevated LDL-cholesterol.
However dietary factors can also significantly affect LDL-cholesterol levels. Therefore making the right changes to the diet can allow many individuals to manage their cholesterol levels, either in conjunction with medication, or without the need for it.
High blood cholesterol is affected by the amount and type of fat we eat. A high intake of saturated fat (found in butter, fatty meat, cakes and pastries) can increase the amount of cholesterol produced by the liver, which raises cholesterol levels in the blood, thereby increasing cardiovascular disease risk.
Making positive dietary changes including replacing saturated fats with polyunsaturated fats (found in vegetable oils, oily fish, nuts and seeds and foods made from them), and keeping intakes of trans fats (found in cakes, pastries, meat and butter) to a minimum, are well known to lower LDL-cholesterol3.
Cholesterol lowering foods
Many food components such as soluble dietary fibre and soy proteins are proven to help lower cholesterol. However, the single most effective way to lower LDL-cholesterol with dietary change is to include plant sterols or stanols in the diet4.
Eating 2-3g of plant sterols daily can lower LDL-cholesterol by up to 15% when combined with a move to a healthy diet and lifestyle.