If you are healthy, it’s recommended that you limit your dietary cholesterol to less than 300 milligrams (mg) a day.
Cholesterol is a fat (lipid) which is produced by the liver and is crucial for normal body functioning. It is a building block for cell membranes and for hormones like estrogen and testosterone. Cholesterol exists in the outer layer of every cell in our body and has many functions. It is a waxy steroid and is transported in the blood plasma. About 80% of the body’s cholesterol is produced by the liver, while the rest comes from our diet.
The main sources of dietary cholesterol are meat, poultry, fish, and dairy products. Organ meats, such as liver, are especially high in cholesterol content, while foods of plant origin contain no cholesterol. After a meal, dietary cholesterol is absorbed from the intestine and stored in the liver. The liver is able to regulate cholesterol levels in the bloodstream and can secrete cholesterol if it is needed by the body.
What are the functions of cholesterol?
- Builds and maintains cell membranes (outer layer), it prevents crystallization of hydrocarbons in the membrane.
- Is essential for determining which molecules can pass into the cell and which cannot (cell membrane permeability).
- It is involved in the production of sex hormones (androgens and estrogens).
- Is essential for the production of hormones released by the adrenal glands (cortisol, corticosterone, aldosterone, and others).
- Aids in the production of bile.
- Converts sunshine to vitamin D.
- It is important for the metabolism of fat-soluble vitamins, including vitamins A, D, E, and K.
- It insulates nerve fibers.
Quick Cholesterol Facts:
High cholesterol is also referred to as hypercholesterolemia (hyper=high + cholesterol + emia = in the blood) or hyperlipidemia.
LDL (low-density lipoprotein) cholesterol is called “bad” cholesterol because elevated levels of LDL cholesterol are associated with an increased risk of coronary heart disease.
HDL (high-density lipoprotein) cholesterol is called the “good cholesterol” because HDL cholesterol particles prevent atherosclerosis by extracting cholesterol from artery walls and disposing of them through liver metabolism. High levels of LDL cholesterol and low levels of HDL cholesterol are risk factors for atherosclerosis.
Factors that affect blood cholesterol levels include diet, body weight, exercise, age and gender, diabetes, heredity, and other causes including underlying medical conditions.
Guidelines recommend that cholesterol screening occurs every 5 years after age 20.
There are three main types of lipoproteins:
Cholesterol is carried in the blood by molecules called lipoproteins. A lipoprotein is
any complex or compound containing both lipid (fat) and protein. The three main
LDL (low-density lipoprotein) – people often refer to it as bad cholesterol. LDL carries cholesterol from the liver to cells. If too much is carried, too much for the cells to use, there can be a harmful buildup of LDL. This lipoprotein can increase the risk of arterial disease if levels rise too high. Most human blood contains approximately 70% LDL – this may vary, depending on the person.
HDL (high-density lipoprotein) – people often refer to it as good cholesterol. Experts say HDL prevents arterial disease. HDL does the opposite of LDL – HDL takes the cholesterol away from the cells and back to the liver. In the liver, it is either broken down or expelled from the body as waste.
Triglycerides – these are the chemical forms in which most fat exists in the body, as well as in food. They are present in blood plasma. Triglycerides, in association with cholesterol, form the plasma lipids (blood fat). Triglycerides in plasma originate either from fats in our food or are made in the body from other energy sources, such as carbohydrates. Calories we consume but are not used immediately by our tissues are converted into triglycerides and stored in fat cells. When your body needs energy and there is no food as an energy source, triglycerides will be released from fat cells and used as energy – hormones control this process.
High cholesterol levels can cause:
- Atherosclerosis – narrowing of the arteries.
- Higher coronary heart disease risk – an abnormality of the arteries that supply blood and oxygen to the heart.
- Heart attack – occurs when the supply of blood and oxygen to an area of heart muscle is blocked, usually by a clot in a coronary artery. This causes your heart muscle to die.
- Angina – chest pain or discomfort that occurs when your heart muscle does not get enough blood.
- Other cardiovascular conditions – diseases of the heart and blood vessels.
- Stroke and mini-stroke – occurs when a blood clot blocks an artery or vein, interrupting the flow to an area of the brain. Can also occur when a blood vessel breaks. Brain cells begin to die.
Cholesterol Lowering Foods
Oatmeal, oat bran and high-fiber foods:
- Oatmeal contains soluble fiber, which reduces your low-density lipoprotein (LDL), the “bad” cholesterol.
- Soluble fiber is also found in such foods as kidney beans, apples, pears, barley and prunes.
- Soluble fiber can reduce the absorption of cholesterol into your bloodstream.
- Five to 10 grams or more of soluble fiber a day decreases your total and LDL cholesterol.
- To mix it up a little, try steel-cut oatmeal or cold cereal made with oatmeal or oat bran.
Fish and omega-3 fatty acids:
- Eating fatty fish can be heart-healthy because of its high levels of omega-3 fatty acids, which can reduce your blood pressure and risk of developing blood clots.
- In people who have already had heart attacks, fish oil — or omega-3 fatty acids — reduces the risk of sudden death.
- You should bake or grill the fish to avoid adding unhealthy fats.
- If you don’t like fish, you can also get small amounts of omega-3 fatty acids from foods like ground flaxseed or canola oil.
- You can take an omega-3 or fish oil supplement to get some of the benefits, but you won’t get the other nutrients which you get from eating fish, like selenium.
- If you decide to take a supplement, just remember to watch your diet and eat lean meat or vegetables in place of fish.
- Try and eat at least two servings of wild fish a week. The highest levels of omega-3 fatty acids are in:
- Mackerel Lake trout Herring Sardines Albacore tuna Salmon Halibut
Walnuts, almonds and other nuts:
- Walnuts, almonds and other nuts can reduce blood cholesterol.
- Rich in polyunsaturated fatty acids, walnuts also help keep blood vessels healthy.
- According to the Food and Drug Administration, eating about a handful (1.5 ounces, or 42.5 grams) a day of most nuts, such as almonds, hazelnuts, peanuts, pecans, some pine nuts, pistachio nuts, and walnuts, may reduce your risk of heart disease. Just make sure the nuts you eat aren’t salted or coated with sugar.
- Olive oil contains a potent mix of antioxidants that can lower your “bad” (LDL) cholesterol but leave your “good” (HDL) cholesterol untouched.
- The Food and Drug Administration recommends using about 2 tablespoons (23 grams) of olive oil a day in place of other fats in your diet to get its heart-healthy benefits.
- To add olive oil to your diet, you can saute vegetables in it, add it to a marinade, or mix it with vinegar as a salad dressing. You can also use olive oil as a substitute for butter when basting meat or as a dip for bread. Olive oil is high in calories, so don’t eat more than the recommended amount.
- The cholesterol-lowering effects of olive oil are even greater if you choose extra-virgin olive oil, meaning the oil is less processed and contains more heart-healthy antioxidants.
- But keep in mind that “light” olive oils are usually more processed than extra- virgin or virgin olive oils and are lighter in color, not fat or calories.
Beans and Lentils:
- They really are good for your heart
- Researchers at Arizona State University Polytechnic found that adding 1/2 cup of beans to soup lowers total cholesterol, including LDL, by up to 8%
- The key to this heart-healthy food is its abundance of fiber, which has been shown to slow the rate and amount of absorption of cholesterol in certain foods
- Try black, kidney, or pinto beans; each one supplies about one-third of your day’s fiber needs
- While tea has become well known for its cancer-fighting antioxidants, it is also a great defense against LDL cholesterol levels
- According to research conducted with the USDA, black tea has been shown to reduce blood lipids by up to 10% in only 3 weeks
- These findings were concluded in a larger study of how tea may also help reduce the risk of coronary heart disease
- This popular green contains lots of lutein, the sunshine-yellow pigment found in dark green leafy vegetables and egg yolks
- Lutein already has a “golden” reputation for guarding against age-related macular degeneration, a leading cause of blindness
- Now research suggests that just 1/2 cup of a lutein-rich food daily also guards against heart attacks by helping artery walls “shrug o” cholesterol invaders that cause clogging
- Look for bags of baby spinach leaves that you can use for salads or pop in the microwave for a quick side dish
- Garlic side from adding zing to almost any dish, garlic has been found to lower cholesterol, prevent blood clots, reduce blood pressure, and protect against infections.
- Now research finds that it helps stop artery-clogging plaque at its earliest stage by keeping cholesterol particles from sticking to artery walls.
- Try for two to four fresh cloves a day.
Don’t blame the egg!
Fact: Eggs are a good source of nutrients. One egg contains 6 grams of protein and some healthful unsaturated fats. Eggs are also a good source of choline, which has been linked with preserving memory, and lutein and zeaxanthin, which may protect against vision loss.
Fact: Eggs have a lot of cholesterol. The average large egg contains 212 milligrams of cholesterol. As foods go, that’s quite a bit, rivaled only by single servings of liver, shrimp, and duck meat.
Myth: All that cholesterol goes straight to your bloodstream and then into your arteries. Not so. For most people, only a small amount of the cholesterol in food passes into the blood. Saturated and trans fats have much bigger effects on blood cholesterol levels.
Myth: Eating eggs is bad for your heart. The only large study to look at the impact of egg consumption on heart disease—not on cholesterol levels or other intermediaries —found no connection between the two. In people with diabetes, though, egg-a-day eaters were a bit more likely to have developed heart disease than those who rarely ate eggs.
If you like eggs, eating one a day should be okay, especially if you cut back on saturated and trans fats. Other ways to enjoy eggs without worrying about cholesterol include not eating the yolk, which contains all the cholesterol or using pourable egg whites or yolk-free egg substitutes.
This website contains general information about medical conditions, nutrition, health and diets.
To view our disclaimers click here.