Did you know that every cell in your body has cholesterol in its outer layer? Cholesterol is a fat-like material in your blood that’s vital to normal body function. More specifically, it’s used to produce cell membranes, hormones, vitamin metabolism and nerve insulation. It’s your liver that makes cholesterol. It’s then carried through the blood by lipoproteins. The most commonly tested lipoproteins are high-density lipoproteins (HDLs) and low-density lipoproteins (LDLs).
The “Good” Cholesterol – HDLs
- HDLs collect excess cholesterol in the blood and bring it back to the liver for processing.
- Having an HDL level > 60 mg/dL is a good thing — it’s associated with a reduced risk of heart disease.
The “Bad” Cholesterol – LDLs
- LDLs are smaller particles that carry cholesterol through the blood. They slide easily between the cell walls of blood vessels. This makes it easier for LDLs to build up in blood vessel lining and create blockages that get in the way of blood flow.
- Having an LDL level that’s < 100 mg/dL is considered optimal — lower LDL levels translates to a lower risk of heart disease.
Cholesterol in Food – Is It Bad For You?
Cholesterol is naturally present in animal products. However, since our bodies make what we need, we don’t have to get it from food. The long-standing belief has been that consuming large amounts of cholesterol-rich food leads to increases in cholesterol in the blood and therefore increases your risk of heart disease.
However, research studying increased egg consumption shows that this may not be the case. More research is needed to fully understand the relationship between cholesterol and heart disease and the relationship between blood and dietary cholesterol.
More Advanced Testing
More advanced cholesterol testing may provide additional useful information to help identify heart disease risk factors. Typical testing measures total cholesterol, total LDLs and total HDLs. Advanced lipid testing measures the actual particle sizes of each cholesterol category.
LDLs come in seven different sizes, ranging from smaller and more dense to larger and more buoyant. As noted previously, the smaller, more dense particles can clog your blood vessels. Diet, exercise, genetics and medication can affect particle size. Learning the size of the particles your body makes can help determine a plan of action to reduce disease risk.
If you’re concerned about your HDL/LDL levels and/or heart disease risk, schedule an appointment with your doctor to become more informed and discuss testing options that are right for you.
So, What Should I Eat?
Eat whole, unprocessed foods as often as possible.
When it comes to food products from animals, choose grass-fed and pasture-raised. Most meat and dairy products come from animals whose natural diet comprises grass; these animals have better nutrient and fat content than those raised on grain.
Load up on fruits and vegetables with vibrant colors and strong flavors as these are packed with vitamins and minerals and will enhance nutrient absorption of foods they’re paired with. Think about adding at least one (more) fruit or vegetable to each meal.
Don’t forget to get your body moving as well. Any small bit of movement you add to your day improves your body’s ability to thrive and reduces disease risk. Aim for 30 minutes of daily activity (one that brings you joy, even if it comes with completing that activity).