Cholesterol and Our Health
Learn about cholesterol, what it does to our bodies and tips to improve cholesterol levels
What is Cholesterol?
Cholesterol is an important type of fat that is a vital part of every cell in the body. This fat is produced naturally by the liver and is used by tissues in the body to build and maintain cells.
There are two kinds of cholesterol, Low Density Lipoprotein and High Density Lipoprotein. Both are often shortened to LDL and HDL.
LDL is considered to be a “bad” cholesterol as at higher levels it can contribute to an increased risk of heart disease, can form plaques and cause atherosclerosis.
HDL is called the “good” cholesterol because it helps remove excess cholesterol from plaques which slow plaque growth.
How can high cholesterol negatively affect us?
Our liver returns the cholesterol it cannot use to our bloodstream. If an excess of cholesterol is built up in our bloodstream it can cause fatty deposits also known as “plaques” to form in our arteries. If this process occurs over time it is called atherosclerosis. These deposits cause the arteries to narrow and can then eventually block them completely. This will lead to a heart attack or stroke.
High cholesterol symptoms include, poor appetite, tiredness, depression, stress, loose stools, and chest or stomach distension. If you feel that these symptoms relate to you please contact your physician.
Cholesterol and our diet
The cholesterol in our diet comes mainly from saturated fats found in foods from animals. Foods from plants do not contain cholesterol.
Our body produces all the cholesterol it needs so there is no need to eat foods high in cholesterol! Although our body produces cholesterol, some foods containing it also contain essential nutrients for our body. Consuming foods with high amounts of cholesterol is okay, in moderation! Just make sure your overall diet is low in saturated fats. Here are some examples of foods with important nutrients that are high in cholesterol.
- Seafood – avoiding fried and battered seafood you will get a healthy amount of omega-3 fatty acids
- Eggs – Great source of protein, vitamins and minerals in the eggs yolk
- Full fat dairy products – good dose of calcium
How is high cholesterol treated?
If we reduce our intake of foods that are high in saturated fat we may be able to naturally lower cholesterol levels. Changing lifestyle and diet habits is a great start when improving cholesterol levels.
In other circumstances diet and lifestyle changes may not be enough to reduce cholesterol. Some can inherit a gene that causes high cholesterol levels, in this and other cases there are medicines to lower LDL Cholesterol. It’s important to use these medicines in conjunction with a healthy diet and active lifestyle.
- On average men have higher blood cholesterol levels than women. Yet after menopause women’s levels are generally higher than men.
- High blood cholesterol is a major health concern in Australia. Approximately half of adult Australians have a total blood cholesterol level higher than what is recommended to be safe
Tips for reducing cholesterol
- Exercise regularly e.g. 30 minute walk daily
- Lose excess body fat
- Avoid foods high in saturated fats e.g. processed meats, chips, pastries, cakes (all of those foods that make you feel terrible an hour after eating them!)
- Try eating lean meats e.g. turkey or chicken breast
- Eat more fruits and vegetables
- Select high monounsaturated margarine and unsaturated oils when cooking
- Reduce alcohol intake
- Try low fat dairy products
Most importantly try to reduce emotional and physical stress by relaxing and thinking positively. Eating better and being active will make you feel incredible, it’s just a great plus that it also helps reduce cholesterol levels.