High blood cholesterol affects heart health

Ms. Ingrid Kan, Accredited Practising Dietitian (Australia)


Cholesterol is a kind of fat in blood. 80% of the cholesterol in blood is produced by liver while 20% is absorbed from animal food. Low density lipoprotein cholesterol (LDL-C), commonly known as ‘bad cholesterol’, can deposit on the wall of blood vessels while high density lipoprotein cholesterol (HDL-C), commonly known as ‘good cholesterol’, can help in removing excess cholesterol in blood.


Desirable blood cholesterol level

Total cholesterol           

<5.2 mmol/L

LDL-C / Bad cholesterol       

<3.4 mmol/L

HDL-C / High cholesterol     


Male > 1.0 mmol/L                  

Female > 1.3 mmol/L


According to the survey conducted by the Department of Health in 2008, 33% of Hong Kong population hasreached an alarming cholesterol level. ‘Bad cholesterol’ gradually accumulates on the inner wall of blood vessels and clogs the vessels. This reduces blood flow to the heart and hence increases the risk of heart diseases and stroke.


The following eight cholesterol-lowering principles are recommended for optimal heart health:


1. Reduce total fat intake

Based on a daily calorie intake of 2000 kcal for men and 1500 calories for women, it is recommended that the total fat intake should not exceed 13 and 10 teaspoons of oil respectively. In general, limit consumption of pan-fried and deep-fried food, desserts and snacks such as ice-cream, cakes and fries.


2. Reduce saturated fat intake

Saturated fat intake is directly associated with increase in ‘bad cholesterol’ level in blood. In fact, the amount of saturated fats in diet is much more than cholesterol present in food. And the blood cholesterol-raising effect of saturated fat intake is far more evident than dietary cholesterol intake. Therefore, it is more important to limit consumption of foods high in saturated fats such as solid fat under room temperature including skin of chicken, fatty meat, ribs, soup made with pork ribs, coconut flesh, coconut juice, full-fat dairy, and food made with palm oil such as instant noodles and biscuits.


3. Avoid trans fat

Trans fat not only increases ‘bad cholesterol’, but also decreases ‘good cholesterol’; therefore, avoid trans fatwhenever possible. Food sources of trans fat include hard margarine, hydrogenated vegetable oil, shortening and a lot of pre-packaged food including egg rolls, cookies, cream buns with desiccated coconut, and fried food. A minute amount of trans fat still exists in food that claims ‘no trans fat’ and these foods are usually high in saturated fat. Excessive consumption of these foods therefore increases the risk of heart diseases.

4. Adequate dietary fiber intake of 25-30g

Dietary fiber can be classified as soluble and insoluble. Since soluble fiber can help remove ‘bad cholesterol’ from our body, therefore consume half of daily dietary fiber intake from soluble fiber. To meet the recommended daily intake of fiber, consume at least 1½ bowl of cooked vegetables and 2 fruits (fist-sized) every day. In addition, choose at least half of the cereals from wholegrain such as oats, dried beans and brown rice.


5. Moderate alcohol consumption

Research has shown that daily consumption of a moderate amount of red wine in middle-aged adults is associated with a 40% reduction in coronary heart disease. Other studies also infer the benefits of red wine consumption in increasing ‘good cholesterol’ and removing ‘bad cholesterol’ from blood. The American Heart Association cautions people not to start drinking if they do not already drink alcohol. For people who drink alcohol, the recommended alcohol consumption per day for men and women is 2 drinks and 1 drink respectively (1 drink is equivalent to 150mL or 1/5 bottle red wine).

6. Limit sugar and salt, and maintain a healthy weight.

Apart from reducing total fat intake, limit consumption of food and desserts high in salt and/or sugar. A healthy eating habit can help maintain a healthy weight which is the best way to lower cholesterol level in blood. Body Mass Index* (BMI) for an Asian adult should be within 18.5 – 22.9.

*To calculate BMI, divide weight (kilogram) by height squared (metre2).

 7. Regular exercise

Regular exercise can increase ‘good cholesterol’ in blood. Spend 30 minutes every day for some moderate intensity exercise such as brisk walking, walking 10000 steps and dancing. All these can help improve blood lipid profile.



Translated by Ms. Joyce Lam, Accredited Practising Dietitian (Australia)

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