Cholesterol. Something that has been talked about endlessly in the health and fitness world, but how can we cut through the noise and get to the bottom of what cholesterol really is, and how it can impact your health?
This article will break down what exactly cholesterol is, what differentiates the “good cholesterol” from the “bad”, and which foods are linked with each.
- What is Cholesterol?
- What is LDL?
- Foods that can Raise LDL
- Foods that can Raise HDL
- How to Lower Cholesterol
What is Cholesterol?
Cholesterol is a soft, waxy substance that is found in all of our body’s cells. It helps support our brain and nervous system. Cholesterol is made in the liver, but we also get cholesterol from the animal-based foods we consume. When you get your blood cholesterol levels checked, the number reflects both sources of cholesterol in the body. If too much cholesterol builds up in your body, it can lead to heart disease.
Because cholesterol is made and processed by the liver, keeping our liver healthy is important too. Limiting alcohol and refined carb consumption helps keep our liver functioning at its best.
While diet impacts our cholesterol values, our genetics do too – so even someone with a very healthy diet can have problems with cholesterol, and someone who does not follow a healthy lifestyle might still have normal cholesterol.
What is LDL?
There are two primary types of cholesterol, LDL and HDL.
LDL is generally considered the unhealthy type, and is the one which we need to keep low. While LDL levels are impacted by consuming foods high in saturated fat, it’s been shown that too many sugars in the diet can also raise your LDL level.1
The other part of the ratio in cholesterol is HDL, or “good” cholesterol. HDL is the part which we need to keep high by choosing healthy fats such as, coconut oil, fish, avocado and olive oil.2 This HDL cholesterol helps absorb the fat in our blood stream and take it back to the liver.
Foods that can raise LDL:
- Red meat
- Baked goods/pastries
- Deep fried foods
- Processed meats
- Refined grains
- Full fat dairy products
- Sugary beverages
Foods that can raise HDL:
- Olive oil
- Coconut oil
- Whole grains
How to Lower Cholesterol
While some of our cholesterol values are inherited, our lifestyle also plays a role. Eating healthy foods, replacing saturated fats with plant-based oils, and consuming lots of fresh fruits and vegetables are some basic steps you can take.
Exercise can help to increase HDL, the good cholesterol, while smoking can lower your HDL.3,4 Eating foods that are high in fibre have also been shown to reduce LDL and total cholesterol levels.1
Take Home Message
While our cholesterol levels are partially inherited from our genes, our lifestyle and specifically our food choices can play a big role in the balance between the good and bad cholesterol levels in the body. If you are concerned about your cholesterol levels, examine your diet and optimise the foods that support heart health.