Do you know your cholesterol numbers? If you don’t, you should! Cholesterol can increase in your body without you realizing it and cause health conditions such as clogged arteries and heart disease.
What is cholesterol? Cholesterol is a waxy substance that comes from both healthy and unhealthy sources.
Your body requires healthy cholesterol to build cells, produce hormones, and produce vitamins.
However, cholesterol becomes unhealthy if you’re giving your body too much of it or from the wrong sources.
With that in mind, let’s explore what you need to know about cholesterol and how you can reduce it.
What Are The Different Types Of Cholesterol?
Your liver produces cholesterol your body needs, but you can also get cholesterol from foods such as animal-based products, like dairy, meat, and poultry.
These foods have a large quantity of saturated as well as trans fats, which trigger your liver to produce more cholesterol. When this happens, it causes your cholesterol levels to get too high.
Types of cholesterol
You’ve probably heard of HDL and LDL cholesterol. But what are they? They’re lipoproteins, or a blend of protein and fat.
These attach themselves to proteins in the body so that they can be carried through the blood. Different lipoproteins have different functions.
- High-density lipoprotein (HDL): This is called good cholesterol because it brings cholesterol from other parts of your body back to your liver. The liver then eliminates cholesterol from the body.
- Low-density lipoprotein (LDL): This is bad cholesterol because it can cause the accumulation of plaque in your arteries.
Why Is Cholesterol Unhealthy?
Cholesterol moves through your blood. If you’ve got too much in your blood this can lead to health problems, such as heart disease and stroke, because cholesterol accumulates in the inner walls of the arteries that supply blood to the heart and brain.
Cholesterol can also combine with other substances to produce a hard deposit inside the arteries. This constricts them and makes them hard, which is a condition called atherosclerosis.
A blood clot can form in this narrowed artery and result in a stroke or heart attack.
What Causes Cholesterol?
An unhealthy diet is the most common cause of high cholesterol.
So, if you eat lots of unhealthy fat, such as saturated fat, that is found in baked goods, meats, dairy products, and processed foods, this will increase your LDL (bad) cholesterol.
Other causes of high cholesterol
- Smoking: When you smoke cigarettes, this unhealthy habit lowers your HDL (good) cholesterol and increases your LDL (bad) cholesterol. This is because smoking produces a destructive breakdown of cholesterol which makes LDL cholesterol more dangerous to the blood vessels. It increases plaque in arteries as well as inflammation.
- Lack of exercise: Another lifestyle habit that increases cholesterol is a lack of physical activity, which lowers your HDL (good) cholesterol. If you have less of the good cholesterol in your blood, this means that there’s less cholesterol to remove the bad cholesterol from your arteries.
Foods That Lower Your Cholesterol
To help keep your cholesterol under control, you need to be more aware of what you’re eating. There are healthy foods that keep your cholesterol levels healthy.
Let’s explore them as they should be part of your low-cholesterol diet plan.
Foods rich in soluble fiber
Some foods have protective effects against cholesterol because they contain soluble fiber.
This attaches itself to cholesterol in the digestive system and it removes it from the body before it can circulate through the blood.
Examples of foods that contain soluble fiber include oats, barley, and other types of grains.
Many fruits also contain soluble fiber. A type of soluble fiber known as pectin is known to lower cholesterol by up to 10 percent.
This is found in grapes, strawberries, apples, and citrus fruits. Vegetables containing pectin include carrots, eggplants, potatoes, and okra.
Foods containing lutein
Dark leafy green vegetables, such as spinach and kale, contain lutein which has been linked to a lower risk of getting heart disease.
These vegetables also lower your cholesterol because of how they attach to bile acids, forcing your body to eliminate more cholesterol.
It’s even been found that lutein lowers levels of bad cholesterol and prevents cholesterol from attaching itself to your artery walls.
Instead of using saturated fats when cooking, such as butter, try to replace these with healthy vegetable oils, such as sunflower and olive oils.
Healthy oils contain polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fats that lower LDL cholesterol while boosting HDL cholesterol.
Adding fish to your diet twice or three times per week can lower your LDL cholesterol by replacing meat so that you don’t consume saturated fats as well as by bringing omega-3 fats into your diet.
These decrease the number of triglycerides in your blood, which can lead to a hardening of the arteries.
Green tea contains antioxidants known as catechins, which can decrease LDL cholesterol without lowering your health HDL cholesterol.
Try to add more green tea to your diet, whether as a hot or refreshing cold beverage.
Foods To Avoid For Healthy Cholesterol
While you’re adding the above foods that are good for lowering cholesterol to your diet, you should start cutting out unhealthy foods that can boost your cholesterol level.
Foods containing saturated fats
You should aim to limit your consumption of saturated fat to no more than six percent of your total daily calories.
Foods that contain saturated fat include pork, fatty beef, lamb, lard, shortening, poultry with its skin intact, dairy products that are made from whole or reduced-fat milk, and saturated vegetable oils such as palm oil, palm kernel oil, and coconut oil.
Foods containing trans fats
These fats can be found in foods such as packaged pastries, cookies, and cakes; fried foods; buttered popcorn; and foods that contain hydrogenated or partially hydrogenated vegetable oils.
If you consume a lot of fast food, it can increase your risk of heart disease and cholesterol because it contains a lot of unhealthy fats.
Research has found that people who regularly eat fast food have higher cholesterol, imparied blood sugar regulation, and higher levels of inflammation in the body.
Are Foods Containing Cholesterol Bad?
What can be confusing about cholesterol is that there are many foods that contain cholesterol but not all of them are unhealthy for you.
This is why it’s actually more important to reduce your intake of unhealthy fats.
Most people don’t need to reduce their intake of cholesterol foods because eating unhealthy fats, such as saturated fat, is the real problem – they obstruct the liver’s ability to deal with cholesterol in the body.
Foods that contain cholesterol and are high in saturated fat are ones you should avoid. As we touched on earlier, these include:
- Full-fat dairy foods such as cream, milk, yogurt, and cheese.
- Animal fats, such as margarine, butter, and lard.
- Fatty and processed meats, such as sausages.
Foods that contain cholesterol but are low in saturated fats can be added to your diet without a problem. These include eggs, lean meat, and shellfish such as prawns, lobster, and crab.
If you already have high cholesterol, you will still be able to eat some cholesterol foods but you will need to be careful about how regularly you consume them so that you maintain a healthy cholesterol level.
What Are The Symptoms Of High Cholesterol?
Much like blood pressure, cholesterol can be a silent killer because you won’t know that your cholesterol levels are increasing – until you get serious problems from it.
This is why it’s important to get a blood test from your GP to find out what your cholesterol number is and if it’s within a healthy range or if you need to take action to reduce it.
A healthy total cholesterol should be less than 200 mg/dL (milligrams per deciliter) but the lower the better.
- Your HDL cholesterol should be 60 mg/dL or higher – 40 mg/dL or higher for men and 50 mg/dL or higher for women is still considered to be acceptable.
- As for your LDL cholesterol, it should be less than 100 mg/dL. If you have coronary artery disease, you need to ensure it’s lower than 70 mg/dL.
How Much Cholesterol To Consume
When deciding what foods to add to your diet, and which ones you should eliminate, you should ensure that foods don’t contain more than 2g of saturated fat per serving.
To reduce your LDL cholesterol, no more than 5-6 percent of your calorie intake per day should come from saturated fats.
So, for example, if you consume 1,200 calories per day, you should aim to reduce your saturated fat to a limit of seven to eight grams.
Similarly, if your daily calories are 1,600 calories, you should aim to eat no more than nine to 10 grams of saturated fat.
If you want something sweet for dessert after dinner, you should avoid store-bought pastries or biscuits.
Instead, try healthy foods that will give you sweetness without the saturated fat, such as berries with non-fat yogurt or a healthy smoothie.
Dark chocolate is also a good sweet snack because cocoa powder decreases LDL cholesterol.
While more research is required to find out how cocoa powder achieves this, we know that it contains flavonoids, which are antioxidants, so they reduce your cardiovascular disease risk and since it also contains monounsaturated fatty acids it improves cholesterol levels.
Does Exercise Lower Cholesterol?
Earlier, we mentioned that regular exercise is helpful to reduce your LDL cholesterol.
This is backed by research. One study found that 150 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise every week can lower your cholesterol and blood pressure.
Similarly, exercise not only decreases your bad cholesterol but it can help to increase your healthy cholesterol.
Some good types of exercise that can lower cholesterol include walking and cycling. One study found that walking for one hour, five days a week reduces LDL cholesterol.
Another study found that cycling to work makes you less likely to have high cholesterol than if you don’t.
Does sodium contribute to high cholesterol?
Reducing your salt intake won’t decrease your cholesterol, but it can reduce your risk of heart disease because it lowers blood pressure.
Is coffee bad for cholesterol?
Coffee itself doesn’t contain cholesterol but it can affect your cholesterol levels because its chemical compounds called diterpenes suppress the body’s production of substances involved in the process of breaking down cholesterol.
This can cause cholesterol to increase.
You need to be informed of your cholesterol numbers so that you can ensure you stay healthy and protect your body against health conditions such as stroke and heart disease.
In this article, we’ve given you all the information you need to know about cholesterol and how to lower your cholesterol with lifestyle habits, and we’ve also explored if exercise can help you to stay within a healthy cholesterol range.