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High cholesterol affects millions of people across the UK and over five million are on prescribed drugs called statins to control their condition.
Cholesterol is a fatty substance that is carried around the body by protein molecules, but when proteins and cholesterol combine they become lipoproteins, which are both beneficial and harmful in the body.
Low-density lipoproteins (LDL) are known as the bad cholesterol that can cause fatty buildup in your artery walls, putting you at risk of heart disease. While high-density lipoproteins (HDL) carry cholesterol away from cells your liver to be broken down and expelled from the body.
Thankfully, your diet can play a huge role in improving your levels of LDL and cutting your risk of cardiovascular problems. Here are our favourite cholesterol-fighting foods to keep your heart healthy.
1. Olive oil
People in the Mediterranean have known of the health benefitting powers of olives for hundreds of years, and now more nations are adopting their healthy, balanced diet and relaxed way of life. Olive oil is rich in monounsaturated fatty acids and vitamin E, which research has shown can lower levels of LDL and increase HDL at the same time. Add a couple of tablespoons of olive oil to your salads or pasta dishes to not only improve the flavour, but also to top up your monounsaturated fatty acids levels.
2. Fat-free yoghurt
You might have to avoid full-fat dairy products as they have a high saturated fat content if you are trying to look after your heart, but the fat-free natural variety of yoghurt can help improve your cholesterol levels. Thanks to its high levels of protein, calcium and a microorganism called Lactobacillus, fat-free yoghurt, and other dairy products, can help lower blood cholesterol levels.
3. Fruit and vegetables
It goes without saying that a healthy, balanced diet filled with fresh fruit and vegetables is the best way to improve your all-round wellbeing. But if you're focusing on lowering your LDL levels, try to include plenty of vitamin C or beta-carotene in your five-a-day. Carrots, oranges, red peppers and the entire cabbage family are perfect.
Wholegrains - particularly the unsifted and unprocessed variety - are really rich in B vitamins, minerals and dietary fibre, but low in fat and cholesterol at the same time, making it an ideal food for a healthy heart. A bowl of muesli or porridge in the morning is the perfect start to the day.
Recent studies have found that people who regularly eat fish - three or more times a week - are less likely to suffer from coronary disease or high blood pressure. Thanks to the high levels of omega-3s and fatty acid content in oily fish you can help improve the level of LDL cholesterol in your blood, reduce your blood pressure and help break down any plaque buildup in your arteries.
Any fish will benefit your heart, but salmon, tuna, trout and sardines are particularly good for improving your bad cholesterol levels.