Cholesterol: Everything you need to know

By | April 30, 2023

While we tend to associate cholesterol with fatty foods, most of this waxy substance is produced in the body. The liver produces 75% of the cholesterol that circulates in our blood while the other 25% comes from food.

At normal levels, cholesterol plays a very important role in helping cells perform their functions.

When cholesterol is high

High cholesterol levels do not manifest with symptoms, but cause damage deep within the body. Over time, excess cholesterol can lead to plaque buildup in the arteries.

Known as atherosclerosis, this condition limits the space available for blood to flow and can cause heart disease. The good news is that high cholesterol is easy to spot, and there are many ways to lower it.

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People over the age of 20 should have their cholesterol levels checked at least once a year, as part of a general preventive checkup.

The most important factor, according to the latest expert recommendations, is not necessarily the number, but the overall risk of heart disease and/or stroke.

“Good” VS “Bad”

Most of the cholesterol in the blood is carried by proteins called low-density lipoproteins, or LDL. They are better known as “bad” cholesterol because they can combine with other substances and eventually clog arteries.

A diet high in saturated and trans fats tends to raise LDL cholesterol levels.

Up to a third of the cholesterol in the blood is carried by high-density lipoproteins, or HDL, known as “good” cholesterol because it helps remove bad cholesterol, preventing it from building up inside the arteries.

The higher the HDL cholesterol level, the better, while the lower it is, the more likely it is to get heart disease. Eating good fats like olive oil can help raise HDL cholesterol.

cholesterol and history

Cholesterol comes from two sources, the body and food, and the latter can contribute to its increase. Some people, however, can inherit genes that cause too much cholesterol to be produced.

For others, diet is the main culprit. Saturated fat and cholesterol are found in foods of animal origin, such as meat, eggs, and dairy products.

In many cases, high cholesterol comes from a combination of diet and genes.

cholesterol and gender

Until menopause, women typically have lower total cholesterol levels than men of the same age. They also have higher levels of “good” cholesterol. One reason is estrogen, which increases HDL cholesterol levels.

Estrogen production peaks during the childbearing years and falls during menopause. After age 55, a woman’s risk of developing high cholesterol begins to increase.

What increases the risk?

Several factors can increase your chances of developing high cholesterol:

  • A diet rich in saturated fat and cholesterol.
  • Family history of high cholesterol.
  • When someone is overweight or obese.
  • We are growing up.

“Reverse” the damage

Diet changes are an effective method to combat high cholesterol.

Soluble fiber found in many foods helps lower LDL, the bad cholesterol. Good sources of soluble fiber include whole grain breads and cereals, oatmeal, fruits, nuts, vegetables, and legumes such as beans.

At the same time, your daily calories from fat should not exceed 35% of your diet. Unsaturated fats can lower LDL when combined with other healthy dietary changes. You can find them in avocado, olive oil and peanut oil.

Protein should not be missing from your diet. Meat and whole milk provide plenty of protein, but they are also important sources of cholesterol. You may be able to lower your LDL cholesterol by choosing plant-based protein sources, such as tofu.

Fish is another great option. Some varieties, such as salmon, are rich in omega-3 fatty acids, which can improve cholesterol levels.

Equally important are lifestyle changes, including regular exercise, losing excess weight, and quitting smoking.

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