Cholesterol is a waxy, fat-like substance found in every cell of the human body. It helps build cells, produce hormones and synthesize vitamin D from sunlight exposure.
High levels of cholesterol in the blood can lead to various health issues, including heart disease and stroke. To better manage your wellbeing, become informed about good and bad cholesterol and its effects on health.
Cholesterol is a waxy substance found in all types of cells. It’s produced by the liver, but you can also get it from certain foods. Your body needs cholesterol for healthy cells and hormone production, but too much “bad” type — low-density lipoprotein (LDL) — could increase your risk for heart disease.
The good news is that high levels of HDL cholesterol can protect against heart disease by taking LDL cholesterol out of circulation and transporting it to the liver for excretion or reuse. Eating a diet rich in fruits, vegetables, whole grains and other low-saturated fat foods such as fruits and vegetables helps combat this risk factor as well.
Furthermore, you should abstain from smoking and other tobacco products such as smokeless tobacco and e-cigarettes. These habits can lower your HDL cholesterol level, making it harder for the body to filter out extra LDL particles from your bloodstream.
You may need a blood test to check your cholesterol levels. This tests looks at LDL, HDL and total cholesterol levels as well as triglycerides. For most people, a total cholesterol level below 200 mg/dL is considered healthy; however, if you have an increased risk for cardiovascular disease or are taking medications to lower it, a higher-than-normal reading could indicate that treatment isn’t working as effectively as it could.
HDL cholesterol, the “good” cholesterol, helps to scavenge other forms of bad cholesterol from where it doesn’t belong and may reduce your risk for heart disease and stroke. When present at adequate levels, HDL can reduce inflammation associated with these diseases.
LDL cholesterol on the other hand, is believed to accumulate on artery walls and restrict blood flow, eventually leading to atherosclerosis or plaque buildup – a fatty substance which hardens and narrows arteries while restricting oxygen-rich blood supply to your heart muscle.
Good news: you can boost your HDL and lower LDL with lifestyle modifications like quitting smoking or cutting back on alcohol consumption. Furthermore, eating foods rich in omega-3 fatty acids will help decrease LDL while raising HDL.
In addition to lowering cholesterol, HDL can protect you from atherosclerosis and may prevent heart attacks or strokes. While its exact mechanism remains unknown, it appears to involve a process known as reverse cholesterol transport.
Improve your HDL and LDL cholesterol levels through diet by eating more fish, restricting saturated fat consumption and cutting back on alcohol consumption. Furthermore, regular exercise will help raise HDL and decrease LDL levels as well.
Saturated fats are fatty acids with hydrogen atoms lacking carbon chain double bonds. You can find saturated fats in red meat and dairy products, baked goods and fried foods.
Saturated fatty acids have been linked to high cholesterol and heart disease. The American Heart Association suggests limiting saturated fat consumption to 5-6 percent of your daily caloric intake.
Unsaturated fatty acids are considered “good cholesterol” as they increase HDL cholesterol in your bloodstream, helping lower LDL levels and decreasing the risk of heart diseases.
Unsaturated fatty acids, which are commonly found in foods like avocados, nuts and seeds as well as vegetable oils (like olive oil), can be substituted for saturated fats in order to benefit your health. Replacing saturated fats with unsaturated fatty acids will help ensure a balanced lifestyle.
Every now and then, enjoy a little butter with your meals; however, for maximum health benefits consider swapping it out for spreads made from healthy unsaturated fatty acids (such as olive, sunflower or rapeseed oils). Not only that, but these oils also possess anti-inflammatory properties to further promote wellness.
Limiting your consumption of saturated fat is not always feasible, as it can be hidden in many fast-food dishes and other processed foods. To ensure you are eating a nutritious diet low in saturated fat, check the total and saturated fat content on food labels.