Cholesterol is a word or term you hear more and more of these days and not just by health and medical professionals but by the general population. More people either know more about it or believe they do due to having raised cholesterol themselves. The question is do they know the right stuff to help them and better still, do YOU know enough to help support them?

Let’s take a quick specific look at cholesterol from the point of view where we can actually make a difference.

Brief Science Section

Cholesterol is described as being a waxy type substance which is naturally made in the body, specifically the liver. We do need cholesterol in our bodies because it has vital roles such as helping the body make important chemicals and it plays a large role in cell function too. However, we need the right level of cholesterol in order to prevent the risk of cardiovascular disease increasing.

We have two types of cholesterol: Low Density Lipoproteins (LDL) and High Density Lipoproteins (HDL).

The LDL cholesterol is commonly referred to as your bad cholesterol and it is responsible for transporting cholesterol from the liver to the cells. HDL cholesterol is known as your good cholesterol and picks up the excess cholesterol which isn’t needed in the body from the bloodstream and takes it back to the liver for removal from the body via breakdown or as waste products.

Too much LDL cholesterol in the body is therefore the main contributor to heart disease and needs to be carefully monitored. Saturated fat which people consume in their diet is used by the liver to help form more LDL so we need to be very aware of the foods we consume. Triglycerides are another fatty substance in the blood and play a very important role but we will cover the differences and their role in another blog article.

When LDL cholesterol builds up in excess, over time it causes atheroma’s and a build up of fatty plaque in the artery walls, reducing the diameter. This is known as coronary heart disease which is a disease of the arteries supplying your heart and can lead to a heart attack.

Causes

The main reason that people have raised LDL cholesterol levels is due to consuming a diet too high in saturated fats. This where we as fitness professionals can help support our clients. However,  this is not always the case and people do have raised LDL scores even when they eat healthily – this is usually as a result of another medical condition/s.

What nutritional advice should we support?

Nutritional advice and science is always changing and can be somewhat controversial but the British Heart Foundation support the guidance of choosing healthier fats and cutting down the saturated fats.

The two key pieces of advice which the BHF recommend are:

  • Cutting down on saturated fats and replacing them with monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats
  • Avoid foods containing trans fats wherever possible.

(British Heart Foundation, 2014)

The types of foods which contain cholesterol in them such as shellfish and eggs do not play a large role in increasing your cholesterol levels which some people believe is the case. Eat a varied and balanced diet, keeping saturated fats as low as possible.

Foods that research suggests can help lower total cholesterol and LDL values include:

  • Fruits and vegetables – in particular pulses, lentils, chickpeas and those high in fibre
  • A range of unsalted nuts
  • Possible stanol and sterol products
  • Soya

Cholesterol and Exercise

The exercise guidelines for healthy adults and older adults are to achieve 150 minutes of moderate intensity exercise per week. This can help to decrease total cholesterol and potentially increase the level of HDL (your good cholesterol) – although this is seen more specifically during high intensity exercise. These changes are normally seen in combination with dietary changes too. Regardless, exercise is essential to helping someone improve their cholesterol levels and additionally it helps to prevent cardiovascular disease progression too.

What to Share with Clients?

Most of this information can be shared with your clients…they need to understand what cholesterol is without going in to too much detail. Once they understand what is it and the impact on their health then they can see the benefits to making changes as opposed to multiple people just telling them they must make changes. As a fitness professional you can help them structure regular exercise suitable for them and during this time help support their nutritional knowledge and habits. Educate them step by step on the changes they should be making and reinforce their progress throughout.

Please remember that we are not dieticians and therefore you shouldn’t work outside of your qualifications – just support clients with basic nutritional information.

If you are in the health and wellbeing industry and don’t have a nutritional qualification but would like to get one to help develop your understanding then have a look at the two we offer. Both courses are accessible to people both inside and outside the fitness industry as well as being home study options so you can take it step by step at a time that is suitable for you.

Level 2 Nutrition for Healthy Living

Level 3 Nutrition for Physical Activity

We will continue this topic to explore triglycerides and their role in the body soon.

Use this top up of extra knowledge to support your clients in leading a healthy, active lifestyle.

Hope you found this informative.

Speak soon,

Emma

The British Heart Foundation was the source of information for this article.