Often, cholesterol takes on a negative connotation because it is often associated with increased risk of heart disease. However, did you know that your body needs cholesterol? It is important to understand what role that cholesterol plays in the body and why too much of it can be a risk to your health. Here we will explore what cholesterol is, the types of cholesterol and how to effectively manage your cholesterol through diet.
Cholesterol is a type of fat-like substance needed by the body for overall good health, but in the proper amounts.(1). While most people view cholesterol as inherently “bad”, it is an important building block for the body to help build cells. Your body makes the cholesterol it needs to function by way of the liver; additional cholesterol in your body comes from foods you eat, especially fatty meats, poultry, full-fat dairy products and some plant-based fats such as palm and coconut oil(2). These foods tend to be higher in saturated fats, and foods higher in saturated and trans fats have been suggested to increase the production of cholesterol made by the liver. As the amount of cholesterol in your blood increases above its need, so does the risk to your health.
Cholesterol moves through the bloodstream carried by different types of proteins called lipoproteins. These lipoproteins include low-density lipoprotein (LDL), very low-density lipoprotein (VLDL) or high-density lipoprotein (HDL).
LDL and VLDL cholesterol are referred to as “bad” cholesterol because high levels of this cholesterol can raise your risk of heart disease. LDL and VLDL cholesterol can join with other substances on the inside of the arteries to create a thick and hard deposit, which can cause arteries to become more narrow and make them less flexible – a condition known as atherosclerosis (3). Buildup in these arteries that are connected to the heart and brain can reduce blood flow throughout the body and in turn can negatively impact health and lead to disease if left untreated.
HDL cholesterol is referred to as “good” cholesterol. Unlike LDL or VLDL, higher levels of HDL can be beneficial to your health. Experts believe that HDL acts as a scavenger, carrying bad cholesterol away from the arteries and back to the liver, where the LDL and VLDL are broken down and passed from the body (4). However, HDL cholesterol does not eliminate all LDL and VLDL cholesterol; it is important to be aware of the amount of cholesterol you are consuming through your diet.
One of the biggest contributors to high cholesterol levels is an unbalanced diet. It is important to know which foods can raise your “bad” cholesterol, and which can help lower your overall risk of disease.
Although cholesterol is an essential part of the body, too much cholesterol can have a negative impact on overall heart health. To manage your cholesterol levels, it is important to understand how a well-balanced diet relates to cholesterol, and steps you can take to prevent high cholesterol. How will you manage your cholesterol levels?
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