So this week, I thought we would cover another topic that holds a lot of “false” or misleading information: Cholesterol. Feared and hated in the 90s and early 2000s (does anyone remember all these “cholesterol-reducing” products of which I am sure those companies made a fortune on?!) – there is nowadays (thankfully!) a lot more research on the topic that can present us with a bit more of an accurate picture. I have supplemented the pictures of this post with some good-for-you cholesterol-reducing recipes 🤗.
What is Cholesterol?
Basically, it is a waxy substance that is fat-like in appearance. It does not mix with blood as it is oil-based (whereas blood is water-based). Cholesterol is present in every cell of our body and helps to digest food properly. It also produces hormones and supports the generation of Vitamin D. Cholesterol mainly comes from two sources: Our body produces it naturally in the liver and the remainder comes from food. It is present in animal sources and some tropical oils.
Cholesterol travels around in our bodies in something called lipoproteins. There are two types of lipoproteins that carry it around:
- Low-density Lipoprotein (LDL)
- High-density Lipoprotein (HDL)
LDL is considered the “bad” cholesterol as it has been proven to contribute to fatty buildups in arteries. This condition means that the body’s arteries can clog up and thereby increase your risk of heart disease and stroke.
HDL, on the other hand, is considered the “good” cholesterol. Researchers believe that HDL carries away LDL from the arteries and transports it back to the liver. Here, it is broken down and essentially passed away from the body. HDL manages to eliminate about 1/4 – 1/3 of LDL levels (so definitely not everything). High HDL levels protect against heart disease and strokes. Low HDL levels, just as high LDL levels, increase its risk.
What are Triglycerides and how do they connect to Cholesterol?
Now that we know what Cholesterol, HDL, and LDL exactly are one question remains. What are triglycerides that are oftentimes mentioned in combination with Cholesterol? Triglycerides are also a type of fat (lipid) found in the blood. Your body basically turns any excess energy it does not need into triglycerides. These triglycerides are stored in our fat cells and get released as quick sources of energy between meals.
If we regularly eat a lot more than we burn in terms of energy (or calories) then we may have a high amount of triglyceride levels in our blood. This may contribute to the hardening or thickening of artery walls. Which, in turn, can also increase your risk for heart disease and strokes. Extremely high triglyceride levels can also cause inflammation in the pancreas. Triglycerides also, and often times, contribute to obesity, metabolic syndrome, type two diabetes, high blood pressure, and high blood sugar levels. All of these can further your risk of said heart diseases and stroke.
Just to be clear – cholesterol is needed to perform certain cell (and bodily) functions. Triglycerides provide our bodies with energy. So the two are fundamentally different. However, a high triglyceride level, combined with high LDL levels, and/or low HDL levels may further fatty build-ups in the artery walls.
How can you prevent having high LDL Cholesterol (and triglyceride levels) in the body?
From a food perspective, the ones listed below may support the lowering of cholesterol levels:
- Oats, foods rich in fiber, whole grains, beans, eggplant, nuts, apples, grapes, strawberries, and citrus fruit, as well as fatty types of fish
On the contrary, the following foods may increase your cholesterol levels:
- Red meat, hydrogenated oils, margarine, full-fat dairy products, and baked goods (mainly, because they are high in trans and saturated fat)
The main other factors that you can support your body with is to exercise regularly, avoid smoking, refined sugar, excessive amounts of refined carbohydrates, and alcohol. There are also options for medication if your cholesterol and/or triglyceride levels cannot be managed through your diet. Please consult your doctor prior to taking any medicine. S/he will need to find the right balance for you based on how your blood results (cholesterol/triglyceride levels) look like.