Cholesterol is one of a group of fats that serve the body as material for building cells, and as an energy source. It’s needed for proper brain and nerve function, and it’s used by the body to produce sex hormones. However, the excess of serum cholesterol leads to plaque building up in the arteries which might be one of primary causes of heart disease.
If an artery supplying blood to your heart becomes blocked, the heart attack might happen. If the blockage happens in an artery supplying your brain, a stroke may occur.
Cholesterol is produced in the liver and transported through the bloodstream to the sides where it’s needed. To travel through the blood stream cholesterol molecules attach themselves to lipid-carrying proteins – lipoproteins. Low-density lipoproteins (LDLs) carry two-thirds of all cholesterol, and tend to deposit cholesterol in the artery walls leading to atherosclerosis. That’s why LDL cholesterol is called “bad” cholesterol. High-density lipoproteins (HDLs) called “good” cholesterol carry unneeded cholesterol away from the artery walls and other tissues back to the liver to be metabolized and removed from the body. High levels of a third type of fat, triglycerides also worsen atherosclerosis.
Unfortunately, high level of cholesterol doesn’t have any symptoms. Many people are diagnosed by their physicians after doing a cholesterol test. Results of cholesterol test might be expressed in two ways: milligrams (mg) of cholesterol per deciliter, or millimoles (mmol) of cholesterol per liter. To get the millimole system you need to multiply milligrams to 0.026.
LDL levels should be below 130 mg/dl (3.5 mmol/l). 130 to 159 (3.5-3.9) is considered as a borderline high, and over 160 (4) is classified as high risk for coronary artery disease and heart attack.
HDL level should be 45-50 mg/dl for men and 50-60 mg/dl for women.
It is suggested that higher level of HDL cholesterol might protect you from the heart disease. The ratio between LDL and HDL is calculated by dividing total cholesterol by the HDL figure. The desirable numbers should be less than 4.5.
It is important to distinguish between serum cholesterol (cholesterol in the bloodstream) and dietary (cholesterol that is present in food). When eating food rich in cholesterol we can increase the level of our serum cholesterol, but that’s not the only source of our serum cholesterol. Cholesterol level is greatly affected by our heredity, so same food would act differently on different bodies.
If you have high cholesterol level in your blood,
you have to start by changing your diet.
Foods that may raise cholesterol
- Hard margarine and vegetable shortening which are high in saturated fats and trans fatty acids
- Cookies, candies, pastries, which are made by using saturated tropical oils (coconut, palm, palm kernel) and partially hydrogenated oils.
- Full-fat dairy products. Chesses, butter and whole milk are very high in saturated fats.
- Fatty meats and meat products. All animal products contain saturated fat. You can consume nonfat milk, low fat cottage cheese, skinless white poultry (preferably turkey), but only in moderation.
- Coffee. In large amounts coffee might elevate cholesterol level, according to The New England Journal of Medicine.
- Coconut, palm, palm kernel oils. These are the only plant oils that contain saturated fat.
- Fast food. Many restaurants use beef fat to make their hamburgers, fish, chicken, and French-fries. Food may not only contain the high amount of cholesterol, but fat used in deep frying process results in oxidation and formation of free radicals harmful for the body.
- Tobacco. Tobacco smoke encourages the immune system to increase LDLs as well as cause a drop in health promoting antioxidants such as vitamin C.
Food that may lower cholesterol
- Whole-grain food which has plenty of fiber. Water soluble dietary fiber is important to lower serum cholesterol. It is found in barley, beans, brown rice, oats. Oat bran and brown rice bran are the best for lowering cholesterol.
- Fresh juices such as carrot, celery, and beet. Carrot juice helps to flash out the fat from the liver.
- Unrefined cold-or expeller-pressed oils. Monounsaturated fat found in olive and canola oils, some nuts and avocados has been shown to reduce bad LDL cholesterol while rising up good HDL cholesterol. Polyunsaturated fat found in corn, cottonseed, safflower and sunflower oils reduces the bad LDL cholesterol. The bad part, it also reduces the good HDL cholesterol.
- Nonhydrogenated soft margarine containing plant sterols is relatively healthy option. When consumes as a part of a heart-healthy diet it has been shown to lower cholesterol level.
- Fruits, such as oranges, apples, pears, bananas, grapes, grapefruit, and dried fruits as apricots, figs, prunes.
- Vegetables, such as sweet corn, onion, garlic, all kind of beans and other legumes.
- Nuts, such as almonds, walnuts, pecans; seeds, such as sesame, and sunflower seeds.
- Cold water fish, such as salmon, sardines. Eat two-tree servings a week.
- Flavonoid-rich foods showed good results in lowering cholesterol level. Among them citrus fruits, onions. Pectin in apples and other fruits also lowers cholesterol.
- Soy products. Adding soy protein to low-fat diet helps to lower cholesterol level.
- Cayenne, hawthorn berries, cinnamon, spirulina help to lower cholesterol.
Increased exercise, weight loss, and stress management are very important to lower cholesterol level as well. Regular exercise for a minimum of 30 min a day at least three times a week can raise the levels of HDL. If diet and exercise do not lower your cholesterol level, your doctor may prescribe drugs.