Cholesterol is a waxy, fat-like substance produced mainly in the liver and also in other cells of our body. It is a combination of lipid and steroid. About 80% of the body cholesterol is produced by the liver while rests are supplied by our regular diet that includes food from animals- meat, poultry fish, dairy products and eggs.
Your body also needs some cholesterol in order to function properly. So cholesterol is an important structural component of especially mammalian cell membranes as it provides membrane permeability and fluidity. It is also useful to produce bile acids, steroid hormones and fat soluble vitamins like Vitamin A, Vitamin D, Vitamin E, and Vitamin K. But remember, the body needs only some degree of cholesterol to meet its needs. When excess of cholesterol may develop some health problems, such as heart disease.
High blood cholesterol can cause coronary artery disease, heart attack, stroke, and peripheral artery disease. But it is possible to reduce the risk by keeping cholesterol levels in the normal range.
Lifestyle changes can enable you to control your heart health, and managing your cholesterol level is one of such important lifestyle changes. Other risk factors that can also be restricted include:
- Maintaining normal blood pressure
- Keeping your weight within normal limits
- Quitting smoking
- Controlling diabetes
- Controlling stress
Type of Cholesterol
Cholesterol transmits through the blood attached to a protein. This cholesterol-protein package is known as a lipoprotein. Lipoproteins can be classified as:
- High density
- Low density
- Very low density
- It depends on how much protein there is in relation to fat.
Low density lipoproteins (LDL):
LDL, also known as “bad” cholesterol, can cause formation of plaque on the walls of arteries. The more the presence of LDL in the blood, the greater the risk of heart disease.
High density lipoproteins (HDL):
HDL also called “good” cholesterol helps the body to prevent bad cholesterol in the blood. So, higher the level of HDL cholesterol is better. If your levels of HDL are low, your risk of heart disease increases.
Very low density lipoproteins (VLDL):
VLDL is just similar to LDL cholesterol as it contains mostly fat and not much protein.
Triglycerides are another type of fat which is present in the blood by very low density lipoproteins. Excess calories, alcohol, or sugar in the body are converted into triglycerides and stored in fat cells of the body.
Manage your Cholesterol Levels
Maintaining a strict heart-healthy diet can help reduce total and even LDL cholesterol (the “bad” cholesterol), lower blood pressure, lower blood sugars, and reduce body weight. While most of the dietary plans just alert you what you should not eat (generally your preferred foods!), the most effective nutrition strategy helps you focus on what you can eat happily.
Eat more vegetables, fruits, whole grains and legumes.
These wonders of nature may prove to be one of the most effective strategies to combat heart disease. The increase in dietary fiber decreases bad LDL cholesterol. Broccoli, Green leafy vegetables, Oranges or orange juice, Carrots, Garlic, Oats/oat bran/oatmeal, Fiber take care of heart health, blood pressure, cholesterol and cancer.
Choose fat calories wisely.
- You should keep these in mind to lower down “bad” cholesterol level:
- Limit total fat grams
- Eat a bare minimum of saturated fats and trans-fatty acids such as fats found in butter, salad dressing, sweets and desserts.
- When you are taking added fat try to use plenty of monounsaturated fats (for instance, fats found in olive and peanut oil).
- Use plant stanols or sterols as a dietary option for lowering bad LDL cholesterol.
Eat a variety and just the right quantity of protein foods.
Commonly taken protein foods (meat, dairy products) are mainly responsible for increasing heart disease risk. Reduce this nutritional risk factor by balancing the intake of animal, fish including salmon, tuna, trout, and sardines, fish oil and vegetable sources of protein. It is said that substituting soy protein for animal protein may lower LDL cholesterol. This also reduces your risk of heart disease. Higher intakes of omega-3 fatty acids have been shown to help alleviate the risk of heart disease. According to the The American Heart Association fish should be included as part of a heart-healthy diet.
Unsaturated Fats Protect the Heart
We all need to include a little fat in our diet which generates about 25% to 35% of our daily calories. But the type of fat is a big concern. Unsaturated fats, found in canola, olive, and sunflower oils reduce LDL (“bad” cholesterol) levels and may help elevate HDL (“good” cholesterol). Saturated fats (found in butter and palm oil) and trans fats raise LDL cholesterol levels. Even good fats have calories, so eat in restraint.
Go Nuts for Cardiovascular Health
Wish to have a snack? A handful of nuts is a tasty treat to reduce cholesterol levels. Nuts are rich with monounsaturated fat, which decreases LDL “bad” cholesterol without affecting HDL “good” cholesterol. Several studies found that people who consume about an ounce of nuts a day have lesser risk of heart disease. Nuts are also high in fat and calories, so take care that you eat only a handful and also make sure that they’re not covered in sugar or chocolate.
More Beans but Fewer Potatoes
You need carbohydrates to generate energy. Whole grains like brown rice or quinoa, whole-wheat pasta, and beans have more fiber and lift sugar levels less. They act as a negative catalyst to lower the risk of diabetes and high cholesterol. Other carbohydrates that can be found in white bread, white potatoes, white rice, and pastries, raise blood sugar level and may even raise risk of type 2 diabetes.
Start Your Day with Whole Grains
A bowl of oatmeal or whole-grain cereal has benefits that remains throughout a day. The fiber and complex carbohydrates present in whole grains make you feel fuller for longer, so you’ll be less eager to overeat at lunch. They are also effective in lowering LDL “bad” cholesterol and can play a crucial part in your weight loss strategy. Other available sources of whole grains include wild rice, popcorn, brown rice, barley, and whole-wheat flour.
Get energy by eating complex carbohydrates
Whole wheat pasta, brown or wild rice, whole-grain breads are called complex carbohydrates which will boost your energy. But limit the intake of simple carbohydrates found in regular soft drinks, sugar, sweets etc. If you already have high cholesterol, these simple carbohydrates aggravate the condition and may also increase your risk of getting heart disease.
Feed your body regularly.
Skipping meals often causes overeating. For some, having 5 to 6 mini-meals may help keep your urge for overeating in check and help control blood sugars and regulate metabolism. This approach may not seem much helpful for those who become easily tempted to overeat every time they are exposed to food. For these people, three balanced meals a day is a better approach.
Regular exercise and aerobics can check LDL cholesterol and increase HDL cholesterol. You should try to be physically fit for 30 minutes on most days.30 minutes of physical activity 5 days a week (20 minutes three times a week for the persons undergoing vigorous exercise, such as jogging) can help cut down LDL cholesterol and heighten HDL cholesterol. More exercise is even better as helps you maintain an ideal weight, reducing your possibility of developing clogged arteries. You don’t have to work out for 30 minutes straight – you can break it up into 10-minute segments. Researchers have demonstrated that exercise even without losing weight can have a positive effect on improving cholesterol levels. It is the amount of activity that matters. So there is no big necessity of any changes in fitness or intensity of exercise that is important for cholesterol improvement and decreasing the risk factors for heart disease and stroke.
Other factors raising the level of LDL
Besides being a risk factor for heart disease, overweight can also raise your cholesterol levels. Losing weight can help lower your LDL and total cholesterol levels, as well as increase HDL cholesterol.
Smoking significantly lowers HDL (“good”) cholesterol levels. But this trend can be upturned if you give up smoking.
Age and Gender
As we age, cholesterol levels also rise. Before menopause, women tend to experience lower total cholesterol levels than men of same age. After menopause, however, women’s LDL levels start rising.
Poorly controlled diabetes accelerates rise in cholesterol levels. With serious measure taken cholesterol levels can fall.
It’s your genes that partly determine how much cholesterol your body produces. High blood cholesterol can be hereditary.
Measure your cholesterol
Everyone over the age of 20 should check their cholesterol levels at least once in every five years. A sample of blood is required to measure your cholesterol. Often your health care practitioner may suggest and arrange these tests during an office visit, but it is best to have the blood examined after fasting for 14-16 hours.
Take medication as recommended by your physician. Sometimes making changes to your diet and increasing exercise is not enough to control your cholesterol. You may also be suggested to take a cholesterol-lowering drug.
Cholesterol-lowering drugs include:
- Bile-acid resins
- Fibric acid derivatives
But these cholesterol-lowering medicines are most effective if combined with a low-cholesterol diet.
|Know Your Cholesterol Count|
|Type of Fat||Bad||Better||Desirable|
|Total Blood Cholesterol||240 mg/dL** and above needs evaluation of HDL and LDL levels||200-239 is borderline high||200 and less; 150 is ideal|
|HDL||40 mg/dL or less||45 for men; 55 for women||60 or more|
|LDL||190 mg/dL or more considered very high; 160-189 considered high||130-159 is borderline high||100-129 is nearly the best; under 100 is ideal|
|Triglycerides||500 mg/dL or more is very high; 200-499 is considered high||150-199 is borderline high||Below 150 is normal|
[**mg/dL means milligrams per deciliter of blood.]