We always hear about cholesterol and how you want to avoid having high levels of it.
But what does it actually mean? According to the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute, “cholesterol is a waxy, fat-like substance that’s found in all cells of the body.”
It doesn’t exactly sound good, to begin with, but it’s in all cells, so what’s the big deal? In this article, we’ll go more into detail about how cholesterol and cholesterol levels work in your body and why it’s important for maintaining your health.
Cholesterol Comes in Food and Your Body
Your body actually manifests cholesterol naturally. The liver produces cholesterol to help make the outer layers of cells, completing the makeup of bile acids that aid in digestion. Cholesterol also helps the body perform other functions, which we’ll cover later.
The point here is that you don’t just get cholesterol from your diet. Your body creates it as well, meaning even if you never ate any food with cholesterol in it, you’ll still have it in you. In fact, you need it to live.
Having said that, you still shouldn’t eat huge amounts of cholesterol. Everything in life requires balance, and this stays true in all forms of nutrition, even cholesterol levels.
Cholesterol Only Comes from Animal Foods
You won’t find cholesterol in a Vegan diet. Cholesterol only comes from animal products, so if you find yourself eating red meat, chicken, eggs, fish, organs, or dairy products that contain fat in them, you’re probably eating cholesterol.
Basically, any animal product with animal fat you can guarantee has cholesterol in it. You’ll find this because animals, like us, produce cholesterol in their body naturally.
Unlike Fats, You Can’t Burn Off Cholesterol
The best way to combat excess fat or counteract the amount of fat in your diet has always been exercise. That’s why so many athletes can eat such high-calorie diets that are still high in fat and stay in such good shape.
Unfortunately, unlike fats, cholesterol doesn’t burn off. But, this doesn’t mean it can’t help. Even if you don’t burn off the cholesterol, regular exercise helps push your body to further eliminate bad cholesterol, teaching it to produce less of them, and also to produce more of the good kinds of cholesterol. That’s the other good news—not all cholesterol hurts you. In fact, some cholesterol actually helps your body function better.
There Are Two Types: One Good and One Bad
Your body actually produces two types of cholesterol. Each of these two types of cholesterol gets carried through the bloodstream by different water-soluble “bubbles” of protein. One of these types, called low-density-lipoproteins (LDLs), helps carry cholesterol to your body’s tissues. We call this type the “bad” cholesterol because doctors have found links between high LDL levels and heart disease.
The other type of cholesterol gets carried by high-density lipoproteins. These proteins help carry excess cholesterol back to the liver to get processed and usually excreted. We call this cholesterol “good” because higher levels of it are associated with better health.
So, you can see how cholesterol can get confusing quickly. That’s why it’s good to know all the facts. HDLs and LDLs only exist in your body; you won’t find them in your food. So don’t go looking for foods high in HDLs and low in LDLs, you won’t find anything helpful.
Eating Fat Can Help You; Or Hurt You
So, how do you balance out your LDLs and HDLs? First of all, notice that the more saturated fats you eat, the higher you’ll find your overall cholesterol levels. Overall high cholesterol levels, even if HDLs increase at all, still show a high correlation with heart disease. So, do your best to avoid eating too much-saturated fat. On the other hand, eating no saturated fat might not do you well either. You don’t want to have really low cholesterol levels.
Unsaturated fats can help, but not always. Polyunsaturated fats can lower your overall cholesterol level, but they also lower HDL levels. If you want to lower cholesterol levels, but keep up your HDLs, the best fat or oil to eat comes from olives. Fish has also been known to help with this, but nothing has more evidence of lowering overall cholesterol levels without affecting HDLs than olive oil.
Keep this in mind: Olive oils don’t actually increase your HDLs, so still don’t just eat olive oil as your only fat. Make sure you have a healthy level of HDLs, and then use olive oil to help keep down the levels of bad cholesterol.
Paying Attention to Your Body Can Save You
You can save yourself a lot of trouble by going to the doctor for regular checkups. Doctors know what your cholesterol levels should look like. They also can help determine if you’re already at risk for heart disease for a number of reasons and can help you make decisions on whether you should change your diet.
If you want to know what the doctor looks for when checking your cholesterol levels, they measure the levels in mg/dL (milligrams per deciliter). Cholesterol levels should never go higher than 200mg/dL, which basically means no more than .2 grams for every 1/10 of a litre. LDLs appear more frequently, and a healthy person wants to have them lower than 130 mg/dL. HDL levels should sit at least at 40 mg/dL, but hopefully higher.
If you already eat lots of olive oil, and you don’t want to cut out any more animal products, fibre offers another great way to help your body eliminate cholesterol.
Foods such as oats, beans, okra, and barley come rich in soluble fibres. Oats for breakfast have consistently shown a range of benefits, and in the case of cholesterol, the argument still stands. If you care about your health and diet, seriously consider changing your breakfast to an oat-based cereal. But, if you’re doing it to lower cholesterol, try not to mix in any dairy.
Hopefully, this guide helps you understand how cholesterol works a bit better and will help you make more informed decisions about your health in the future.