European research has recently been published that investigates whether you can be 'fat but fit', and whether being overweight or obese yet having certain healthy blood markers affects heart disease risk. The study that was conducted in 10 European countries using health data from more than half a million people found that having healthy blood pressure, blood sugar and cholesterol levels whilst being overweight or obese, as opposed to a healthy weight, increases individuals risk of heart disease by 28%. The reasons behind these healthy blood markers in overweight and obese individuals may simply be that they are yet to develop "an unhealthy metabolic profile"1
In light of this new evidence debunking the myth of being 'fat but fit', below is an insight into what exactly cholesterol does and why blood pressure is important, along with some heart healthy lifestyle tips.
The food you eat plays a key role in maintaining your heart health. Consuming a diet high in fruit, vegetables and fibre whilst limiting your intake of salt and fat, especially saturated fat, can help to significantly reduce your risk of developing heart disease. Factors that can increase your risk of developing heart disease include family history, stress, smoking, being overweight, drinking too much alcohol, having an inactive lifestyle, raised blood cholesterol and high blood pressure.
Cholesterol is essential for making nerves and hormones as well as helping to digest fat. However having raised levels of ‘bad’ cholesterol and low levels of ‘good’ cholesterol in the blood cause a build-up of fatty deposits in the arteries – increasing the risk of heart disease, heart attack and stroke. Nearly half of all deaths from heart disease in the UK are due to raised ‘bad’ cholesterol levels (more than 5 mmol/litre).
HOW DOES DIET INFLUENCE BLOOD CHOLESTEROL?
The type of fat you eat can influence your blood cholesterol. For a healthier diet, try to swap the saturated and trans fats for unsaturated fats:
- Saturated fats – foods high in saturated fats include butter, lard, fatty red meat, skin on chicken, cheese, cream and any foods made from these such as pastry, cakes and some desserts. Eating too much can increase your ‘bad’ cholesterol levels while limiting your intake of these fats can help to reduce your ‘bad’ cholesterol.
- Trans fats – found mainly in foods containing hydrogenated vegetable oil (HVO) such as some margarines, pastries, biscuits, cakes and pies. Eating too much can cause your ‘bad’ cholesterol levels to rise and also decrease the levels of ‘good’ cholesterol in the blood. Avoiding foods which contain HVOs can help benefit your heart.
- Mono-unsaturated fats – such as those found in olive oil, nuts and seeds tend to have a neutral effect on blood cholesterol.
- Poly-unsaturated fats – found in oily fish, nuts, seeds and vegetable oils, can reduce ‘bad’ cholesterol and may increase levels of ‘good’ cholesterol.