You must be well aware of this infamous word – CHOLESTEROL. You must also know someone who suffers from high cholesterol levels or someone who is struggling to keep the cholesterol level low.
First things first, NOT ALL CHOLESTEROL IS BAD. Surprised?
Today, let’s break down this demonized word and understand what exactly it is, how it supports as well as harms the body, and what can we do to maintain it at a healthy level.
WHAT IS CHOLESTEROL?
Cholesterol is a waxy, fat-like substance in appearance that is present in your body – viz., every cell. It is manufactured by the body but can also be ingested from food. It is an oil- based substance that does not mix with blood. It is carried around the body with the help of lipoproteins which are of two types –
- High Density Lipoprotein(HDL) which carries the ‘good cholesterol’. HDL carries cholesterol from all other parts of your body to the liver, which in turn removes cholesterol from the body. So high level of HDL doesn’t put the body at risk.
- Low Density Lipoprotein (LDL) which carries the ‘bad cholesterol’. LDL delivers cholesterol to the body. High level of LDL puts the body at higher risk of heart diseases.
Like any other elements present in our body, cholesterol too has an impact. Now whether that impact is good or bad, depends on the quantity in which it is present in the body.
At normal levels, it has four important functions that keeps the body running –
- Builds structure of cell walls
- Produces digestive bile acids for food digestion
- Aids production of vitamin D
- Enables the body to make certain hormones
But higher the levels of (bad) cholesterol, higher the risk of many heart diseases. Excess cholesterol in your blood can form plaque that sticks to the walls of your arteries. This buildup of plaque is known as atherosclerosis. It can lead to coronary artery disease, where your coronary arteries become narrow or even blocked. These clots inhibit oxygen-rich blood flow to your heart muscles and cause chest pains or even worse, heart attacks.
Another element to consider here is Triglycerides. These are the most common type of fat in the body that store excess energy from your diet.
This increases when LDL is high and HDL is low, and increases cholesterol-containing plaques. Hence, harming the body more.
Therefore, it is of utmost importance to maintain a healthy level of cholesterol in your body.
WHAT IS THE HEALTHY LEVEL OF CHOLESTEROL?
The ideal cholesterol level varies from person to person and will depend on your risk for heart disease. However, following is the standard optimum level –
Total cholesterol level – less than 200
LDL cholesterol levels – less than 130
HDL cholesterol levels – 60 or higher reduces your risk for heart disease
Triglycerides – less than 150 milligrams per deciliter (mg/dl)
WHAT CAUSES HIGH CHOLESTEROL LEVEL?
Cholesterol levels in body may rise up due to multiple reasons –
The most common cause of high cholesterol is an unhealthy lifestyle. This can include
- Unhealthy eating habits – eating saturated and trans fat found in full-fat dairy products, chocolate, baked and deep-fried food, processed foods, red meat, wrong choice of cooking oil, hydrogenated oils, etc. increase LDL (bad) cholesterol.
- Lack of physical activity lowers your HDL (good) cholesterol.
- Smoking – lowers HDL cholesterol, especially in women. It also raises your LDL cholesterol.
- Genetics may also cause people to have high cholesterol. For example, familial hypercholesterolemia (FH) is an inherited form of high cholesterol.
- Other medical conditions such as diabetes, liver/kidney disease, PCOS, underactive thyroid gland, etc.
- Age – Your cholesterol levels tend to rise as you get older.
- Weight – Being overweight or having obesity raises your cholesterol level.
HOW CAN I MAINTAIN HEALTHY CHOLESTEROL LEVEL?
- Exercise / Get active
- Keep a watch on your weight
- Timely medical diagnoses and appropriate steps
- Reducing / Quitting smoking
- Avoid eating food rich in saturated fats and trans fat
- Opt for healthier fats (MUFA & PUFA) as found in nuts, avocado, lean meats, salmon, etc.
- Add whey protein to your diet and increase soluble fibre.
- Eat heart-healthy foods and add OMEGA-3 fatty acids to your diet.
Here is a list of cholesterol lowering foods (as found in a report from Harvard Health)
- Barley and Whole Grains
- Eggplant and Okra
- Vegetable Oil (Canola, Sunflower)
- Fruits (Mainly Apples, Grapes, Strawberries, And Citrus)
- Soy and Soy-Based Foods
- Fatty Fish (Particularly Salmon, Tuna, And Sardines)
- Foods rich in fiber
By inculcating these habits and being mindful about your food and health checkups, you can keep your cholesterol in control and stay healthy. If there are questions that you would like to ask or anything that you want to discuss about cholesterol, feel free to drop a comment below and I will be more than happy to help you out with it. Stay healthy, Stay fit!