What is Cholesterol?
A massive 6 out of 10 people in the UK have raised or high cholesterol levels. But what is cholesterol and what is its function within the body?
Cholesterol is a substance in the body that is essential for building and regulating cells, it is a waxy, fat like substance that is made in the body by the liver.
Cholesterol forms part of every cell in the body and has many vital functions, like maintaining healthy cell walls, making hormones, helps to make vitamin D and also aids in making bile acids which help in the digestion of fat. The liver produces and regulates cholesterol levels needed as building blocks for cells and hormones. Cholesterol makes up just over 50% of the cell membranes, it helps maintain membrane permeability and protects the core of the cell while still allowing the cell to be fluid. The protection also helps secure important proteins called lipoproteins in the membrane so they can be carried through the blood stream and absorbed by the body.
Just like oil and water, cholesterol which is fatty and blood which is watery don’t mix. For the cholesterol to travel into the bloodstream it is combined with protein making a lipoprotein. This lipoprotein is then able to carry the cholesterol through the bloodstream.
Types of Cholesterol
There are two different types of cholesterol, Low Density Lipoproteins (LDL) and High Density Lipoproteins (HDL). LDL’s are sometimes know as the “bad cholesterol” it is a substance that carries most of the cholesterol in the blood, the cholesterol from LDL is the main source of damaging build up and blockage in the arteries, the more LDL in the blood the more likely the chances of developing heart disease or having a stroke.
HDL is the “good cholesterol” they carry cholesterol in the blood from other parts of the body back to the liver, which leads to the removal from the body. HDL helps to keep cholesterol from building up on the walls of the arteries.
Cholesterol is made by the body, and produces the majority of the bodies daily needs, it can also be obtained through diet.
What foods contain cholesterol?
As cholesterol is a natural substance produced by the liver all animal products contain cholesterol, like eggs, bacon, red meat, milk and cheese. Cholesterol cannot be obtained through plant sourced foods, only by animal products.
Monounsaturated fats like olives, olive oil, most nuts and nut oils all increase the HDL or good cholesterol and lower the LDL or bad cholesterol. Saturated fats which come from meat, milk, eggs and cheese raise both types of cholesterol. The worse thing to consume for cholesterol are trans fats also known as partially hydrogenated, these are man made products that are made to keep margarines firm. They are used in commercial baking and raise the level of LDL (bad) and lower the level of HDL (good).
Saturated fats – These increase cholesterol levels and should be avoided:
Fatty cuts of meat, processed meats like sausages, burgers and bacon
Hard fats like Butter, lard, magazine and Ghee
Dairy fats like creams, full fat cheeses, full fat milk/yogurts
Biscuits, pies, pastries, cakes and creamy desserts
Coconut oil and coconut cream – Its not the “super healthy fat” you might have been led to believe!
Unsaturated Fats – Help improve cholesterol levels
Nuts – raw and unsalted, dry roasted or KP nuts just won’t cut it!
Oily fish like mackerel, salmon, trout and pilchards
Nut butters – natural
Vegetable, seed and nut oils like olive oil, walnut oil and rapeseed oil
Team these good fats with some Fibre, there are two types of fibre — soluble and insoluble. Both have heart health benefits, but soluble fibre also helps lower your LDL levels. You can add soluble fibre to your diet by eating oats, oat bran, fruits, beans, lentils, and vegetables. Add in some complex carbohydrates, lean proteins, plenty of fresh fruit and veggies and a good water intake and you will have your cholesterol levels lowered in no time.