Cholesterol is a waxy, fat-like substance that your body needs. But, when you have too much in your blood, it can build up on the walls of your arteries and can lead to heart disease and stroke.
Did you know that cholesterol is only found in animal-based foods?
There are two types of cholesterol: dietary and blood cholesterol. Dietary cholesterol is the cholesterol found in foods of animal origin. Like people, animals naturally produce this waxy, fat-like substance. So when you eat animal-based foods like eggs, dairy, meat, and seafood you’re eating cholesterol that was produced by an animal. Plant-based foods do not contain any cholesterol. Although many plant-based foods contain fat, like nuts and vegetable oils, they do not contain any cholesterol.
Cholesterol is important for your overall health
Your liver creates all the cholesterol you need in your body. Cholesterol is essential for your body to function correctly and aids in the production of hormones, vitamin D, and helps you digest food.
There are “good” and “bad” types of cholesterol in your blood
The two types of blood cholesterol are High-density lipoproteins (HDL) cholesterol and Low-density lipoproteins (LDL) cholesterol. HDL and LDL are actually carriers of cholesterol called lipoproteins.
LDL cholesterol makes up the majority of the body’s cholesterol. LDL is known as “bad” cholesterol because having high levels can lead to a buildup in the arteries and result in heart disease, whereas, HDL cholesterol absorbs cholesterol and carries it back to the liver, which flushes it from the body. High levels of HDL help reduce the risk of heart disease and stroke. Too much LDL can lead to a build-up, which clogs and narrows arteries, and creates inflammation, which can lead to a sudden rupture. That rupture may send a clot into the bloodstream causing a heart attack and/or stroke.
Dietary cholesterol may not impact blood cholesterol as much as previously suspected.
Just recently reported in the news – The Federal Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee has made significant changes to its recommended “healthy” diets. The panel now says it doesn’t really matter how much cholesterol or unsaturated fats you eat.
Clinicians used to think that consuming dietary cholesterol added to the cholesterol that your body naturally produces, thus raising the amount in your blood. This was perceived to be risky, because too much blood cholesterol has been shown to increase the risk of heart disease, the top killer of both men and women in the United States.
For many years, dietary guidelines for Americans recommended that dietary cholesterol should be limited to no more than 300 mg per day (the same amount found in two eggs, three ounces of shrimp, two ounces of 85% lean ground beef, or one tablespoon of butter). The brand new report released in February 2015 removed this cap on dietary cholesterol however, because the committee believes that the research shows no substantial relationship between the consumption of dietary cholesterol and blood cholesterol levels. The committee concluded, “Cholesterol is not a nutrient of concern for overconsumption.” That’s the good news.
The new guidelines, however, are not a reason to go out and binge on French fries and cheese pizza.
The committee is still concerned about the relationship between blood cholesterol and saturated fat from food, like cheese. When people reduce their intake of saturated fat, but eat more carbohydrates, they lower protective levels of “good” HDL cholesterol, and drive up triglycerides (a type of blood fat), a combo that may actually increase the risk of heart disease. But numerous studies have shown that replacing foods like butter and cheese with plant-based fats like almond butter, avocados, and olive oil can help lower the risk of heart disease.
The take-away from the new Dietary Guidelines report is that we all need to be eating less sugar and processed foods and eat more plant-based foods like vegetables, fruits, whole grains, and legumes (like beans and lentils). If you ingest cholesterol from animals like eggs or seafood or steak, you should pair them with other whole, nutrient-rich plant foods, like veggies and avocado, combined with some fruit, black beans, sweet potato, or quinoa. That’s just good well-balanced nutrition.
Get the facts.
About 71 million Americans have high cholesterol and only a third of them have the condition under control. Less than half of adults with high LDL cholesterol get treatment.
Having high cholesterol puts you at risk for heart disease and stroke, two leading causes of death in the United States. People with high total cholesterol have approximately twice the risk of heart disease as people with optimal levels. A desirable level is lower than 200 mg/dl.
Symptoms of high cholesterol?
The bad news is there are no signs or symptoms of high cholesterol. Getting your cholesterol checked with a simple blood test is the only way you can know if you are at risk for high cholesterol or already have high cholesterol. Knowing your cholesterol level will help your doctor suggest steps for you to take to prevent high cholesterol or to reduce your levels if they are too high.
How to Lower Your Cholesterol Levels
If your blood test indicates you have high levels of cholesterol or you simply want to avoid getting high cholesterol you can:
- Eat a healthy diet.
- Maintain a healthy weight.
- Exercise regularly.
- Don’t smoke.
If you have high cholesterol, your doctor may prescribe medications, in addition, to lifestyle changes. Talk with your doctor about how to reduce your risk for heart disease and stroke due to high levels of cholesterol.
Common medications used to treat or reduce the symptoms of High cholesterol
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It is important to seek medical advice from your medical professional to determine if you are at risk for high cholesterol and what appropriate course of action is needed for you based on your medical history. Do not undertake any exercise or dietary changes without consultation from your medical professional. They can best determine a comprehensive treatment plan tailored for your specific medical history.
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