Cholesterol Awareness Month – small changes for a healthier future

Cholesterol is a type of fat that is made in the liver and carried in our bloodstream. It’s normal to have some cholesterol – it keeps us healthy by helping our body produce vitamin D, hormones, cell membranes and it also plays a vital role in digestion. But too much of it can lead to serious health problems down the line, including heart attacks and strokes.

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What is cholesterol and how can we manage it?

Cholesterol is a type of fat that is made in the liver and carried in our bloodstream. It’s normal to have some cholesterol – it keeps us healthy by helping our body produce vitamin D, hormones, cell membranes and it also plays a vital role in digestion. But too much of it can lead to serious health problems down the line, including heart attacks and strokes.

Over half of UK adults have raised cholesterol levels. Lifestyle choices are a major cause of this but genetic conditions and personal factors out of our control can also contribute. However, managing cholesterol is relatively straightforward. You can maintain healthy levels, or lower your levels by exercising and eating more fruits, nuts, vegetables and plant-based foods. In some cases, you may have to take medicine that is prescribed by your GP. Stopping smoking and reducing alcohol intake can also help.

Lots of everyday foods contain fats. Some are good and some are bad for us, but it’s saturated fat that we have to be careful of. Saturated fats are found in chocolate, cakes, puddings and biscuits, pastries and pies, fatty meat, processed meat (sausages, burgers, bacon), butter, lard, margarine, goose fat, coconut oil, palm oil and full-fat dairy products to name a few. After being turned into cholesterol, this type of fat has trouble breaking down and can accumulate in our arteries.

The risks of high cholesterol

The levels of cholesterol in your blood can rise over time, leading to high cholesterol. High cholesterol can affect anyone no matter the age or body type, even if you eat well and exercise. It’s normally caused by eating a fatty diet, living an inactive lifestyle, being overweight, drinking alcohol and smoking. However, it can also be genetic. It’s very common in adults and the majority of people who have it aren’t aware because there aren’t usually any symptoms.

If left untreated you may develop serious health problems such as:

  • Angina (chest pain)
  • Blood clots
  • Heart attack
  • Heart failure
  • Mini strokes (TIAs)
  • Narrowed arteries
  • Peripheral arterial disease (PAD)
  • Stroke
  • Vascular dementia

If you suspect you could have high cholesterol, you should have a check-up if possible. A simple blood test or finger-prick test will show you your cholesterol level. Your GP may also recommend you have a test based on a number of things, such as your height, weight or an existing condition such as high blood pressure or diabetes.

Get involved

For National Cholesterol Month, Heart UK is encouraging everyone to spread awareness about the risks of high cholesterol and the simple changes we can make to our lifestyles to help. Cholesterol levels can be managed by exercising, eating healthier, switching to low-fat sweet treats, reducing alcohol intake and stopping smoking. You can find tasty recipes, diet tips, low cholesterol food facts, exercise ideas and how to become more active in your daily routine on the Heart UK website. You can also access free webinars, podcasts and e-learning courses created specifically for healthcare professionals.

And of course, you may wish to have your cholesterol levels checked or make others aware of how they can get professionally tested. A test will show you if you need to make any healthy changes. There are three main ways to do this:

  • Visiting a pharmacist.
  • Visiting your GP.
  • Getting an NHS Health Check (adults aged 40 to 73).

Quick tips to reduce cholesterol in your diet

It’s recommended that women shouldn’t eat more than 20g of saturated fat a day and men shouldn’t eat more than 30g of saturated fat a day. Food packaging should display how many grams of saturated fat the product contains, which can help you keep track of your intake.

However, here are some quick changes you can make today to help manage your cholesterol levels:

Eat more lean meats like chicken or oily fish to reduce the amount of saturated fat in your diet. Alternatively, simply trim the fat off of fatty meats (like bacon) before you cook it or consider eating more plant-based foods.

Reduce your cooking oil usage by grilling, steaming, poaching, boiling or microwaving instead of roasting or frying. Also, be wary of coconut oil – although it has a reputation for being healthy it also contains very high amounts of saturated fat! Olive oil is a better choice for lowering cholesterol.

Check the label for palm oil. We all know palm oil production is devastating to the environment, but palm oil also contains saturated fat and is often added to our favourite products.

The more fibre the food contains, the better! Not only does it decrease the risk of heart disease but it can help lower your cholesterol levels. Foods with a high-fibre content include: wholemeal bread, bran, wholegrain cereals, oats, barley, nuts, seeds, fruit, vegetables, potatoes with skin left on, beans, lentils and peas.

Using CareDocs

There are several features in the CareDocs system that can assist you with caring for individuals with different nutritional needs or who are unwell as a result of having high cholesterol.

The Nutrition & Hydration Care Assessment will aid you in learning about your residents’ dietary requirements and preferences, and the recorded information will be used to create a bespoke person-centred care plan in three simple steps. For a quick overview of what a resident likes to eat, remember to log their likes and dislikes in their dedicated Choice section.

Daily Notes can be created to log a huge variety of events, like doctor visits, and to record activities such as exercise to show how progress is being made.

Each resident has a Medication page where you can keep track of their usage and routine. Further information to support administering medication, such as known allergies, possible risks, who normally administers, whether the resident needs reminding, and more, can be recorded in the Medication Care Plan.

Any acute illnesses related to high cholesterol levels can be monitored with the use of the NEWS2 chart. If there’s cause for concern, the chart will provide you with guidance on how to escalate the care. Digital Body Maps can then be used to create short-term treatment plans for those in recovery.

For more information about CareDocs and how we can support you in increasing resident safety and response at your care setting, please get in touch today to learn more. Call us on 0330 056 3333 or email on sales@caredocs.co.uk.
If you’re an existing customer and would like assistance using the features mentioned above, please contact support@caredocs.co.uk.
Originally published on October 8, 2021
Article updated on October 11, 2021

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