Cholesterol is an important fat-like substance used to create hormones (such as vitamin D), build healthy cells, and digest your food. The cholesterol your body uses can come from two different sources: your own body or the food you eat. Dietary cholesterol, meaning the cholesterol from food, is only found in animal-based products (i.e. meat, dairy milk, eggs, etc.). Dietary cholesterol is not essential to your health because your liver makes all of the cholesterol it needs on its own.
What is cholesterol?
Cholesterol is a waxy, fat-like substance that’s found in all the cells in your body. Your body needs some cholesterol to make hormones, vitamin D, and substances that help you digest foods. Your body makes all the cholesterol it needs. Cholesterol is also found in foods from animal sources, such as egg yolks, meat, and cheese.
If you have too much cholesterol in your blood, it can combine with other substances in the blood to form plaque. Plaque 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.
What are HDL, LDL, and VLDL?
HDL, LDL, and VLDL are lipoproteins. They are a combination of fat (lipid) and protein. The lipids need to be attached to the proteins so they can move through the blood. Different types of lipoproteins have different purposes:
HDL stands for high-density lipoprotein. It is sometimes called “good” cholesterol because it carries cholesterol from other parts of your body back to your liver. Your liver then removes the cholesterol from your body.
LDL stands for low-density lipoprotein. It is sometimes called “bad” cholesterol because a high LDL level leads to the buildup of plaque in your arteries.
VLDL stands for very low-density lipoprotein. Some people also call VLDL a “bad” cholesterol because it too contributes to the buildup of plaque in your arteries. But VLDL and LDL are different; VLDL mainly carries triglycerides and LDL mainly carries cholesterol.
What causes high cholesterol?
The most common cause of high cholesterol is an unhealthy lifestyle. This can include:
Unhealthy eating habits, such as eating lots of bad fats. One type, saturated fat, is found in some meats, dairy products, chocolate, baked goods, and deep-fried and processed foods. Another type, trans fat, is in some fried and processed foods. Eating these fats can raise your LDL (bad) cholesterol.
Lack of physical activity, with lots of sitting and little exercise. This lowers your HDL (good) cholesterol.
Smoking, which 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 and certain medicines may also cause high cholesterol.
What is the normal cholesterol level?
Total cholesterol levels less than 200 milligrams per deciliter (mg/dL) are considered desirable for adults. A reading between 200 and 239 mg/dL is considered borderline high and a reading of 240 mg/dL and above is considered high. LDL cholesterol levels should be less than 100 mg/dL.
What causes high cholesterol?
Eating saturated fat, found in animal products, and trans fats, found in some commercially baked cookies and crackers and microwave popcorn, can raise your cholesterol level. Foods that are high in cholesterol, such as red meat and full-fat dairy products, will also increase your cholesterol.
What is the normal range for HDL and LDL?
Total Cholesterol 125 to 200mg/dL
Non-HDL Less than 130mg/dL
LDL Less than 100mg/dL
HDL 40mg/dL or higher
How To Lower Cholesterol Naturally
High cholesterol can lead to the development of heart disease. If you have high cholesterol or simply want to prevent it from becoming too high, include the following foods in your menus.
Aside from eating these foods, there are some other lifestyle changes you can make to manage your cholesterol levels. Adopting a regular exercise regime, not smoking, limiting animal fats, managing stress, and decreasing your alcohol consumption are some ideas. Cholesterol is not something to obsess over, but something to be mindful of.
What foods to lower cholesterol
1. Apples: Apple pectin is a soluble fiber that helps remove the cholesterol from your body! Apples contain flavonoids which act as powerful anti-oxidants that seem to halt the “bad” cholesterol from accumulating in your bloodstream.
2. Avocado: Avocados are a great source of monounsaturated fats, a type of fat that may help to raise the “good” cholesterol, while lowering the “bad”. In addition, avocados contain more beta-sitosterol (a plant-based fat) than any other fruit. The American Heart Association recommends that you get up to 15% of your daily calories from monounsaturated fats.
3. Beans: Beans and vegetables are excellent sources of soluble fiber. Eating a cup of any type of beans a day-particularly kidney, navy, pinto, black, chickpea, or butter beans-can lower your cholesterol by as much as 10% in 6 weeks. According to the FDA and the National Cancer Institute, adults should get 20 to 35 grams of fiber per day. That can easily be done by adding beans to your daily diet.
4. Cinnamon: A study published in the Journal of Traditional and Complementary Medicine found that ½ – 1 teaspoon of cinnamon a day can significantly reduce fasting insulin and blood sugar levels in people with type 2 diabetes. It also reduces LDL (“bad” cholesterol) and total cholesterol levels.
5. Garlic: Garlic has been shown to prevent blood clots, reduce blood pressure, and protect against infections. Most recently garlic has received attention for its possible ability to lower cholesterol levels.
6. Grapes: Grapes contain flavonoids that help protect the “bad” cholesterol from further damage and reduces clumping of the blood. The LDL lowering effect of grapes comes from a compound, resveratrol, that the grapes produce naturally that normally resist mold. The darker the grape, the better!
7. Oats: Oatmeal contains soluble fiber, which reduces your LDL cholesterol. Five to 10 grams of soluble fiber a day decreases LDL cholesterol. Eating 1 ½ cups of cooked oatmeal provides 4.5 grams of fiber.
8. Salmon: The major health components in salmon include omega-3 fatty-acids and proteins. These components lend positive benefits to the cardiovascular system. The American Heart Association recommends that you eat at least two servings of fish per week, particularly fatty fish (salmon, tuna, mackerel, sardines, anchovies, and herring).
9. Soy: The top health promoting components in soybeans are isoflavones and soluble fiber. 25-50 grams of soy per day is recommended to decrease cholesterol by 4 to 8%.
10. Walnuts: Walnuts can significantly reduce blood cholesterol because they are rich in polyunsaturated (omega-3) fatty acids. Walnuts also keep blood vessels healthy and elastic-like. Almonds appear to also have the same effects, resulting in improvements within four weeks. A cholesterol-lowering diet with a little less than 1/3 of a cup of walnuts per day can significantly reduce LDL cholesterol.
8- Tips to Lower Cholesterol
- Lose weight: weight loss has a double benefit on cholesterol by increasing beneficial HDL and decreasing harmful LDL.
- Try supplements: 1- Fish oil is rich in the omega-3 fatty acids docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) and eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA). 2- Psyllium study found that using a 5-gram psyllium supplement twice daily. LDL and total cholesterol decreased by about 5% over a longer, 26-week period. (Source).
- Use of Monounsaturated Fats: monounsaturated fats are healthy because they decrease harmful LDL cholesterol, increase good HDL cholesterol and reduce harmful oxidation (Source). Here are a few great sources of monounsaturated fats. 1- olive oil 2- Canola oil 3- Tree nuts, such as almonds, walnuts, pecans, hazelnuts and cashews 4- Avocados You can find olive oil and canola oil online.
- Use of Polyunsaturated Fats: Polyunsaturated fats also seem to reduce the risk of metabolic syndrome and type 2 diabetes. Research shows that polyunsaturated fats reduce “bad” LDL cholesterol and decrease the risk of heart disease. Omega-3 fatty acids are an especially heart-healthy type of polyunsaturated fat. They’re found in seafood and fish oil supplements. Omega-3 fats are found in high amounts in fatty fish like salmon, mackerel, herring and deep sea tuna like bluefin or albacore, and to a lesser degree in shellfish including shrimp.
- Avoid Trans Fats: Unfortunately, partially hydrogenated trans fats are handled differently in the body than other fats, and not in a good way. Trans fats increase total cholesterol and LDL, but decrease beneficial HDL by as much as 20%. The resulting trans fats are not fully saturated, but are solid at room temperatures. This is why food companies have used trans fats in products like spreads, pastries and cookies etc. they provide more texture than unsaturated, liquid oils.
- Eat Soluble Fiber: Soluble fiber nourishes healthy probiotic gut bacteria and removes cholesterol from the body, reducing LDL and VLDL. Good sources include beans, peas, lentils, fruit, psyllium and whole grains including oats. Some of the best sources of soluble fiber include beans, peas and lentils, fruit, oats and whole grains. Fiber supplements like psyllium are also safe and inexpensive sources.
- Exercise Daily: Any type of exercise improves cholesterol and promotes heart health. The longer and more intense the exercise, the greater the benefit.
- Stop smoking and alcohol: heavier alcohol use increases heart disease risk and harms the liver. Smoking appears to increase bad lipoproteins, decrease “good” HDL and hinder the body’s ability to send cholesterol back to the liver to be stored or broken down. Quitting smoking can reverse these effects.