Elevated cholesterol is widely accepted as one of the key risk factors of coronary heart disease, and yet a significant number of adults in the UK – around half – have cholesterol levels above the limit recommended by the NHS. But what is elevated cholesterol, and what should your cholesterol be?
How elevated cholesterol levels happen
Cholesterol is a waxy substance created naturally by the body in the liver. It performs a number of valuable functions, like forming a component of cell membranes. Certain things, however – such as eating too much saturated fat – can cause the body to create too much LDL- (or “bad”) cholesterol, one of the risk factors of heart disease*. There is also “good” HDL-cholesterol, which can carry cholesterol and take it to the liver to be eliminated.
When people speak of elevated or “high” cholesterol levels, they can be referring to either an excess of cholesterol in the blood in total, or an excess of LDL-cholesterol.
So what is considered elevated cholesterol, and what should my cholesterol level be?
The guidelines on what your cholesterol level should be differ according to whether you are considered to be at high risk of developing heart disease or not. According to NHS guidelines, total cholesterol should not exceed:
- 5mmol/L in healthy adults; and
- 4mmol/L in those at high risk.
An undesirable LDL-cholesterol level is:
- Above 3mmol/L in healthy adults; and
- Above 2mmol/L in those at high risk.
What should your cholesterol be when it comes to “good” HDL-cholesterol? Of your total cholesterol level, the NHS recommends that 1mmol/L of it should be HDL – or more.
How do I find out if I have elevated cholesterol levels?
Cholesterol testing can reveal how much total cholesterol is in your blood, as well as how much of that total is LDL and HDL. Self-diagnosis and home testing is not advised – book yourself in for a test with a healthcare professional. The test simply requires a blood sample, after which you will receive your results as well as further advice on what to do next.
In fact, there are many simple changes you can make to your diet and lifestyle to help lower cholesterol to get to a desirable cholesterol level and how to maintain it – check out our tips below, or our article on how to lower cholesterol levels here for a comprehensive guide.
How to lower elevated cholesterol levels through diet:
- Replace saturated fats with unsaturated fats in your diet*. Find out more about saturated fat here.
- Add plant sterols to your diet – these are found in ProActiv spreads and drinks, and are clinically proven to actively lower cholesterol. A daily consumption of 1.5 - 2.4g of plant sterols can lower cholesterol by 7 - 10% within 2 - 3 weeks, as part of a healthy diet and lifestyle with sufficient fruit and vegetables.**
- Eat oats to introduce more beta-glucans into your diet – it is suggested that you try and get 3g of oat beta-glucans in your diet each day to help lower cholesterol*. For example, try eating oatmeal porridge for breakfast, or snacking on oat-based crackers or breads during the day.
* Replacing saturated fats with unsaturated fats in the diet has been shown to lower blood cholesterol.
** High cholesterol is a risk factor of 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.