If you’ve ever received a cholesterol lab report, the range of numbers and cholesterol types can be overwhelming enough to make you want to call your doctor: “Are these results OK?” or “What should my LDL be?”
But by developing an understanding of how cholesterol supports functions within your body, you can leverage it for optimal health. Despite the many myths surrounding the negative impacts of cholesterol in the body, the body needs it to survive. Taking the time to educate yourself about this important element of health, can help you improve your quality of life for years to come.
In this article, we’re going to break down exactly how cholesterol can improve your quality of life, then provide you with practical tips to begin adding it into your diet.
What Are the Functions of Cholesterol?
The function of cholesterol in your body is dependent on the type of cholesterol contained within your blood. Low-Density Lipoprotein, commonly referred to as LDL, is known as the “bad” form of cholesterol. LDL accounts for most of the body’s cholesterol. While a healthy level of LDL protects cells, too much of this waxy substance can build up in your arteries and lead to heart disease and stroke.
The other type of cholesterol, High-Density Lipoprotein, or HDL, is known as the “good” form of cholesterol. HDL carries cholesterol back to the liver. Because the liver then flushes excess LDL from the body, HDL can lower your risk for heart disease and stroke. Cholesterol also has other important functions in the body, including:
- Vitamin D3 synthesis: In order for the body to manufacture vitamin D, skin needs cholesterol. This vitamin impacts how the body processes calcium and maintains bone density.
- Sex hormone production: Males and females need cholesterol to produce sex hormones.
- Cell protection: Each cell in the body is protected by a membrane; cholesterol is one of the building blocks of that membrane. Without this membrane, cells would rupture.
- Bile production: Cholesterol plays a role in the production of bile which breaks down fats in the digestive system for absorption into the body.
- The brain needs cholesterol: Approximately 25% of cholesterol in the body is found in the brain. This cholesterol helps protect the brain and aids in the function of neurotransmitters.
There’s a common myth that cholesterol is “bad;” however, cholesterol is necessary for your body to survive and thrive. It’s only when LDL cholesterol levels get too high that cholesterol negatively impacts the body.
What Are Sources of Cholesterol?
There are two sources of cholesterol: animal products and the liver. When consuming cholesterol, it’s important not to overdo it. Eating too many foods with saturated fat can increase the cholesterol in your blood and contribute to heart disease.
Here are some foods to add to your diet that will help you achieve healthy levels of cholesterol:
- Lean meats
- Whole grains
- Olive oil
- Beans and legumes
- Fatty fish
- Chia seeds
The foods you eat influence the amount of cholesterol your liver produces. Eating more saturated fats will often influence your liver to create more LDL. Conversely, eating unsaturated fats helps the liver absorb and break down LDL faster.
Cholesterol: Adjusting Lipoproteins
If you’re working to lower your cholesterol, you should begin this process by lowering your LDL levels and increasing your HDL levels.
Everyone has a different starting point for cholesterol levels, so make sure to look at your individual medical history and talk to your healthcare provider before making any changes to your diet.
There are several factors that impact the cholesterol levels in your blood, including: age, race, family history, sex, smoking, diet, exercise, calcium score, weight, risk for diabetes, and blood pressure.
Once your healthcare provider has gathered all this information, they’ll be able to give you a 10-year risk assessment for heart disease. Together, you can develop a plan for reducing that risk.
How to Lower LDL and Increase DHL
Once you’ve developed a treatment plan with your doctor, you can begin working to lower your LDL. Here are a few basic guidelines you can follow to maintain healthy cholesterol levels:
- Reduce animal product consumption, especially red meat
- Reduce trans fats and saturated fats
- Avoid refined sugars and grains
- Eat the rainbow: Add colorful fruits and vegetables to your diet
- Exercise frequently at a moderate to vigorous pace
- Curb alcohol consumption
- Consider statins (a type of prescription drug), which can help lower cholesterol and reduce heart disease by 25% to 35%
The Bottom Line
Finding ways to incorporate healthy cholesterol into your diet can improve your health and decrease your risk for heart disease. By building on knowledge about cholesterol and guidance from your doctor, you can begin making changes to your eating habits that reduce your risk for heart disease.
Looking for support in creating healthier habits in your professional or personal life? An Arootah coach can support you in making positive changes by identifying your challenges and helping you address them through self-accountability.
Are you conscious of the cholesterol in your diet? Discuss in the comments.