Should women worry about cholesterol?

Crisps
Swap crisps for crackers or rice cakes

Heart disease is the single biggest killer of women in the UK, killing three times as many women as breast cancer, says the British Heart Foundation (BHF). High cholesterol is a major contributor to poor heart health, but BHF's Senior Cardiac Nurse Ellen Mason warns that the danger signs can be completely hidden.

'You don’t have to be overweight to suffer high cholesterol. People who are slim, or a normal weight, presume they are healthy on the inside as well as the outside. High cholesterol is something we can't see,’ she says.

And while women generally tend to be very health savvy, we have a tendency to neglect our cholesterol levels - and their potential threat to our heart health. Ellen advises, 'While it’s vital to check for lumps (signs of breast cancer), which all women do, they need to think more about their cholesterol level.’

Spot the signs of breast cancer

What is cholesterol?

Not all cholesterol is bad cholesterol. High-density lipoprotein (HDL) helps to carry cholesterol away from cells to the liver so it can be broken down. Low-density lipoprotein (LDL) does the reverse. The build-up of LDL in your arteries can block the blood supply and increase your risk of heart disease. ‘HDL is like a floor mop for LDL,’ says Ellen.

High cholesterol is caused by eating high levels of saturated fats, smoking, high blood pressure, diabetes and genetics (check your family history for stroke or heart disease problems).

Sort the good fats from the bad

How to lower your cholesterol level

‘High cholesterol is very preventable,’ says Ellen. Her tips to tackle high cholesterol and avoid heart problems now:

1. EXERCISE: ‘Exercise increases the HDL transported around the bloodstream and can also halve your chances of heart disease.’

2. FOOD SWAPS: ‘Swap butter and margarine for low-fat spread, swap crisps for crackers and rice cakes, and drink semi-skimmed or skimmed milk instead of full-fat milk.'

3. 5 A DAY: ‘Fill up on fruit and veg rather than foods high in saturated fats.'

4. EAT FRESH: ‘Avoid ready meals which are high in salt. This increases your blood pressure and is damaging to the heart.'

5. CHECK: ‘Over 40s should have a proper blood test but women whose mother or sister have had heart problems should also be tested for heart disease.’

Find out how a massage can stop your crisp cravings

Ellen has been working with the British Heart Foundation and Flora Pro Active to encourage women to think more about the health of their heart. Find out more at www.loveyourheart.com