We all know cholesterol is something we need to pay attention to because it leads to cardiovascular disease but do you know what it is, do you know there are two types, why good cholesterol is important and how to control the bad?
What is cholesterol and why is it important for good health?
According to the American Heart Association, cholesterol is a waxy substance produced in the liver, and its important to note that not all cholesterol is bad; our bodies need it to build new cells. The liver makes all the cholesterol our body needs and releases it into our blood stream so it can be used throughout the body. However, that’s an important point to consider, since our body produces all we need; we should use caution in how much we get from the foods we eat (unless your body can’t produce enough). By consuming animal products (meats and dairy) that are usually high in saturated and trans fats, it causes the liver to make more cholesterol than it normally would, which leads to high cholesterol. Also oils like, palm or coconut oil can trigger the liver to make more cholesterol and these oils are often used in baked goods.
Why it’s important to monitor your cholesterol
As you just learned, cholesterol circulates in our blood; the more or higher amount of cholesterol the greater the risk of developing cardiovascular disease. Therefore it is very important to have your doctor check your cholesterol regularly and if it is high you need to make the necessary changes to get your levels down right away.
There are two types of cholesterol, HDL (think H for healthy) and LDL (think L for lousy). Too much LDL and too little HDL significantly increases your risk for cholesterol (plaque) build up in the inner walls of the arteries that supply blood to the brain and heart. Over time the build up of plaque narrows the artery reducing blood flow and makes the arteries less flexible; this is called atherosclerosis (see picture below). If a clot forms and blocks blood flow it can cause a heart attack or stroke.
Lifestyle changes to help lower cholesterol
Of course there are medications (statins) your doctor might prescribe to help you lower your LDL cholesterol, however, there are also a number of things you can do to improve your overall cholesterol.
Develop a good nutrition plan with heart-healthy foods
- Reduce saturated fats – these fats are found in red meat and full fat dairy products and raise your total cholesterol.
- Eliminate trans fats – trans fats, often called partially hydrogenated vegetable oil, are used in margarine, cookies, crackers and cakes. Note: the FDA “banned” partially hydrogenated vegetable oil by Jan 1, 2021. Yes, they are that dangerous!
- Consume foods rich in omega-3s – these fats do not affect LDL, however, they do promote lowering blood pressure.
- Increase soluble fiber – soluble fiber reduces absorption of cholesterol into the bloodstream. It’s found in oatmeal, kidney beans, brussels sprouts, apples and pears.
Foods that lower cholesterol
- Oats – since oats have soluble fiber they are great for lowing cholesterol. Look for “rolled” oats and make sure you get 20-35 grams of fiber and of that aim for 5-10 grams soluble fiber each day.
- Barley and whole grains – barley and whole grains are high in soluble fiber
- Beans – beans are great for anyone trying to loose weight as they help you feel fuller longer, they are also high in soluble fiber. Try kidney beans, lentils, black-eyed peas, and navy beans.
- Eggplant and okra – another good source of soluble fiber
- Apples, grapes, strawberries and citrus fruits – all of these are high in pectin a type of soluble fiber that lowers LDL
- Soy – soybeans and foods made from them like tempeh and tofu help lower cholesterol. Having 25 grams of soy protein each day can lower LDL by 5-6%.
Exercise five or six days per week
Physical exercise helps increase HDL cholesterol; if your doctor gives you the okay, try doing 30 minutes of cardio exercise fives days per week. Other options include adding short duration exercise several times per day. For example, a fast walk during lunch, riding a bike, playing a favorite sport, and taking the stairs.
Lose weight and drink alcohol in moderation
Even a few extra pounds increases cholesterol so look for ways to get more activity and stick to a good nutrition plan. Also it’s very important to drink alcohol in moderation as too much can lead to high blood pressure, heart failure or stroke.
It’s important to see your doctor regularly and discuss any questions you have with him or her.