What does cholesterol do?

Cholesterol can be found in every cell in your body and has important functions. It is primarily manufactured by your liver, but can also be manufactured from certain foods you ingest. Cholesterol contributes to the structure of cell walls, makes up digestive bile acids in the intestines, allows the body to produce Vitamin D, and enables the body to make certain hormones.

Cholesterol levels in the bloodstream are regulated by your liver. After a meal, cholesterol from foods you ingested is absorbed by the small intestines, then it is metabolized and stored in your liver. As your body requires cholesterol, it will be secreted by your liver.

Types of Cholesterol

Much of the cholesterol in your blood is carried by certain proteins called low density lipoproteins (LDL). LDL is seen as the type bad cholesterol because it combines with other things to clog your arteries. If you eat foods that are high in saturated fats and trans-fat foods, you will most likely have a high level of LDL cholesterol in the body. Genetics also play a factor in LDL levels. An healthy LDL score is considered to be below 100, but people with heart disease may need to have a personal goal of even lower than 100.

Approximately one-third of your blood cholesterol is carried by high-density lipoproteins, or HDL. This cholesterol is good because it helps remove the bad cholesterol, preventing bad buildup in the arteries. The higher your level of HDL, the better. People with too little HDL are more likely to develop heart disease.

Triglycerides are a type of fat that is carried in your blood and stored in fat cells throughout your body. They are made from excess sugar and alcohol from your diet. Those who are overweight, inactive, smokers or heavy drinkers tend to have high triglyceride levels. In a blood test, if you score 150 or higher in triglycerides, you are at risk for metabolic syndrome which is linked to heart disease and diabetes.

Health Considerations

Adults over 20 years should check their cholesterol levels every four to six years. Cholesterol levels are detected by a simple blood test known as a fasting lipoprotein profile. This test measures three different cholesterol levels (bad cholesterol, good cholesterol and triglycerides) after you have not eaten for nine to twelve hours.

High cholesterol is a major risk factor for coronary heart disease, which causes heart attacks. High cholesterol also causes plaque to build up in your arteries, leading to a condition called atherosclerosis. Atherosclerosis occurs when your arteries are so narrowed, that it constricts blood flow and triggers stroke, heart attack, angina, peripheral vascular disease, high blood pressure and chronic kidney disease.

Foods that are bad for your cholesterol levels include: butter, ghee, hard margarines, lard, fatty and processed meat, dairy fats, red meat, liver and other organ meats, eggs, deep fried foods and peanut butter. Foods that actively lower cholesterol are: soya foods, nuts, oats and barley, fish and omega-3 fatty acids, olive oil, plant sterols/stanols, fruits and vegetables.

Recipe for Healthy Cholesterol Levels:

  • Exercise regularly
  • Eat a healthy diet low in animal fats
  • Eat baked, broiled, steamed, grilled and roasted food
  • Choose lean meat
  • Choose low-fat or fat-free dairy products
  • Avoid fast food and junk food
  • Eat a diet high in fiber
  • Don’t smoke
  • Avoid excessive alcohol consumption
  • Get your cholesterol levels checked regularly
  • Maintain a healthy weight

And there you have it: the good, the bad and the ugly (truth)!

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