With so much talk about cholesterol and the different opinions surrounding it, it can be overwhelming to know what to believe.
Some people think that all cholesterol is bad and should be avoided, while others believe that there is a difference between “good” and “bad” cholesterol.
So, what is cholesterol and why is it so important to our health? Let’s explore this subject so we can understand how cholesterol affects our bodies, and what we can do to maintain healthy cholesterol levels.
Cholesterol is a waxy, fat-like substance that is found in the fats (lipids) in your blood. Your body needs cholesterol to build healthy cells, but too much cholesterol in your blood can increase your risk of heart disease.
There Are Two Main Types of Cholesterol
• Low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol is often called “bad” cholesterol because it can build up in the walls of your arteries and increase your risk of heart disease and stroke.
• High-density lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol is often called “good” cholesterol because it helps to remove excess cholesterol from your body and can lower your risk of heart disease.
Your cholesterol levels are measured with a blood test called a lipid panel or cholesterol panel. It is important to keep your cholesterol levels within a healthy range to help reduce your risk of heart disease.
You can lower your cholesterol levels by making lifestyle changes such as eating a healthy diet, getting regular exercise, and not smoking. In some cases, medications may also be necessary to help lower cholesterol levels.
Foods that are high in saturated and trans fats can increase your LDL (bad) cholesterol levels. Here are some examples of foods that may contain high levels of these types of fats:
• Fried foods, such as fried chicken and French fries
• Baked goods, such as cookies, pastries, and doughnuts
• Snacks, such as crackers and chips
• Non-dairy creamers
• Fast food burgers and sandwiches
• Processed meats, such as bacon and sausage
• Whole-fat dairy products, such as whole milk, cheese, and ice cream
Cholesterol is Found Only in Animal-Based Foods
Plant-based foods, such as fruits, vegetables, grains, and legumes, do not contain cholesterol.
However, they can still be high in saturated and trans fats, so make sure to read nutrition labels and choose foods that are low in these types of fats.
HDL (good) cholesterol helps to remove excess cholesterol from your body. Therefore, you need to have sufficient levels of HDL cholesterol.
Some Foods May Help Increase Your HDL Cholesterol
• Foods that are high in monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats, such as avocados, olives, nuts, and seeds.
• Foods that are high in fiber, such as whole grains, beans, and fruits and vegetables/
• Foods that are high in omega-3 fatty acids, such as fatty fish (such as salmon, mackerel, and sardines), flaxseeds, and walnuts.
In addition to eating a healthy diet, getting regular exercise and not smoking can also help to increase your HDL cholesterol levels.
For a personal assessment, talk to your doctor about what your cholesterol levels should be and how you can manage them to help reduce your risk of heart disease.