Cholesterol is a fat-like substance found in your body and in certain foods. Your body needs cholesterol to function normally. However, consuming more cholesterol than required can cause high cholesterol, which can put you at risk of heart disease and stroke.
Cholesterol is carried throughout the body by lipoproteins which are of two types – low density lipoproteins (LDL) and high-density lipoproteins (HDL).
LDL-cholesterol is called ‘bad’ cholesterol because it gets deposited on the walls of arteries, creating plaque which can affect the blood flow to the heart and brain.
HDL-cholesterol is ‘good’ cholesterol because it carries excess cholesterol back to the liver where it is broken down and eliminated.
“Unmanaged high cholesterol can lead to serious consequences. Hence, it is important to reduce your high cholesterol,” says Adjunct Clinical Assistant Professor Tong Khim Leng, Chief and Senior Consultant Cardiologist, Director of the Coronary Care Unit at Changi General Hospital.
According to the Singapore Heart Foundation, desirable cholesterol levels for the average adult are: Total cholesterol – less than 200 mg/dL
LDL cholesterol – less than 130 mg/dL
HDL cholesterol – equal to/greater than 40 mg/dL
How to tell you have high cholesterol
High cholesterol does not have symptoms. It’s usually detected during a health screening or after a heart attack or stroke has occurred. That’s why it’s important to get your cholesterol levels checked during your routine health screening.
How to treat high cholesterol
If you have borderline high cholesterol, your doctor will probably advise you to lower it by modifying your diet and lifestyle. An average adult with a persistently high LDL of over 190 mg/dL will require medication.
You can lower your cholesterol in the following ways:
- Lose weight if you are overweight
- Stay active and exercise for at least 30 minutes daily
- Avoid saturated fats and trans fats
- Eat fibre-rich foods
Can high cholesterol be prevented?
“Yes, it can,” says Adjunct Clinical Assistant Professor Tong. “Adoption of a healthy lifestyle, including regular aerobic exercise and a low-fat diet should reduce the risk of obesity, high cholesterol, and, ultimately, the risk of coronary heart disease.”
Limit intake of these foods to prevent high cholesterol:
- Butter, ghee, hard margarines, lard, dripping, palm oil, coconut oil
- Fatty meats and meat products – corned beef, sausages, hot dogs, bacon
- Full fat dairy products – cheese, milk, cream
- Egg yolk
- Fast foods – hamburgers, fries, fried chicken
- Snack foods – crackers, cookies, chips
- Bakery foods – muffins, croissants, cakes, doughnuts