Cholesterol - friend or foe?
Do not eat eggs!! The cholesterol will clog your arteries and kill you. Egg yolks? Stay far away. Cheese? Deadly! Yogurt? Don’t even think about it! What’s common about these foods? Like some people, we misunderstand them because they are cholesterol rich and we believe that they would increase the risk of heart disease. However, once you get to know the science behind it, you would see that these foods are highly nutritious and consuming them is not harmful to health. Let’s get to know more about cholesterol, how it functions in your body and bust some myths about some friendly foods that we’ve kept away out of fear.
The good cholesterol
There are two types of cholesterol in general – Blood cholesterol and Dietary cholesterol. Blood cholesterol is a waxy, fat-like substance produced by your liver. Yes, you heard it right. Your own body makes cholesterol. Blood cholesterol is essential for good health. Your body needs it to perform important jobs, such as making hormones and digesting fatty foods. It’s an essential component of cell membranes, particularly the membranes of nerve tissue. Despite the bad press that cholesterol has garnered over the years because of its implication in cardiovascular disease, it serves as the precursor for many other important functions in the body, including producing the bile acids, sex hormones such as estrogens, androgens, and progesterone, the adrenocortical hormones and vitamin D (cholecalciferol).
It’s very important to measure your blood cholesterol levels annually through a Lipids profile test. It gives you serum total cholesterol, LDL, HDL, Triglycerides and LDL-to-cholesterol ratio. You have probably heard of HDL and LDL cholesterol before, but in fact HDL and LDL are carriers that move the cholesterol around in our body. Recent research shows that cholesterol may help with muscle growth indirectly by resisting muscle damage and improving their ability to repair themselves after your workouts. It helps with muscle growth directly by producing anabolic hormones.
The bad cholesterol? Wait!
Dietary Cholesterol – the second type – is the type of fat that is present in foods. Meats, egg yolk and dairy products are common dietary sources of cholesterol. So, is this the bad guy?
Dietary cholesterol does not influence blood cholesterol levels in most people in the first place. Your blood cholesterol levels are highly regulated, like a thermostat, for example.
If your diet does not contain much cholesterol, your intestines will increase their absorption of dietary cholesterol to compensate. If that doesn’t meet the required levels, your body will produce its own cholesterol. If your diet contains excessive amounts of cholesterol, your body will reduce its absorption, decrease its synthesis and increase its excretion rate. There you have your cholesterol automation unit.
If you have any pre existing cardiovascular diseases, then its best to reduce or avoid (depending on the severity) animal based foods rich in cholesterol. This is to be on the safer side.
So how should I choose my food?
When it comes to deciding your diet, overall diet quality seems to be much more important than cholesterol intake specifically. Make sure to keep your saturated fat intake to less than 10% of your daily calorie intake, (especially if your LDL cholesterol levels are high).
If you are eating lots of processed meats or foods that are rich in saturated fats like red meat, fried meats, baked foods, butter, cream , and coconut oil, start replacing that with more of unsaturated fat sources like nuts (almonds, walnuts, pistachios etc), seeds (flax, hemp, chia seeds), avocados, whole eggs, oils that are rich in unsaturated fats like olive oil, avocado oil, fatty fish rich in Omega 3 fatty acids, sesame oil, etc. Dairy is a good source of protein & nutrient dense but too much of it can easily pile up the saturated fat.
The last word when it comes to cholesterol
To conclude, if your overall diet and lifestyle is good and you do not have any pre-existing cardiovascular diseases, the cholesterol levels in your diet is probably not a major concern. On the other hand, if your lifestyle and diet is unhealthy, then probably you need to be careful on how much cholesterol is coming from your food.