Cholesterol gets a bad reputation these days, as it’s commonly linked to living an unhealthy diet and sedentary lifestyle. However, cholesterol is produced naturally in the human body and can be beneficial. Here, cholesterol is explained and the pros and cons are covered in some detail.
Cholesterol is actually an essential kind of fat which is vital for carrying out metabolic processes. It looks like an insoluble waxy white substance and it’s involved in the production of hormones and bile and it can also help the body to use Vitamin D. It’s produced in the liver and delivered around the bloodstream in lipoproteins, which effectively act as ‘couriers’ for cholesterol.
When it comes to understanding the transportation of cholesterol, there are two main types: HDL – High density lipoprotein and LDL – Low density lipoprotein. The former, HDL cholesterol is beneficial to the body because it carries any excess cholesterol produced away from the cells. This includes cells produced in the arteries, and is considered to be ‘good’ for the body.
In comparison, low density lipoprotein carries the cholesterol to cells and is considered ‘bad’ because if there is a high level of cholesterol in the bloodstream it can cause arteries to clog up.
Cholesterol production in the body helps to produce bile acids which aid in the digestion of important nutrients and fats. However, the body is perfectly capable of producing cholesterol by itself and doesn’t require additional help from eating foods which are high in cholesterol. Doing so can be bad for the body’s health – resulting in clogged arteries which can lead to heart disease and strokes.
It’s important to therefore understand what is considered a safe cholesterol level. A level higher than 5.5 mmols per litre is not recommended by many health authorities and if there is also any pre-existing or possible cardiovascular risk factors present, then the cholesterol level should be even lower, at around 2.5 mmol/L.
There are many undesired effects of having a high cholesterol level. The main effect is that when too much cholesterol is circulating in the bloodstream along with LDL cholesterol in the body, it can build up fatty deposits which develop in the arteries and lead to narrowing blood vessels. These can become blocked over time and result in heart disease or stroke.
To ensure blood cholesterol isn’t too high, it’s wise to avoid saturated fats. Animal fat in particular, is transported from the liver into the bloodstream via lipoproteins and causes this build up in the arteries. Reducing the amount of saturated fat in your diet will prevent this, which is why, to prevent this you should try and avoid eating fatty meats, in particular processed meats such as salami, sausages and red meats.
Deep fried foods such as fried chicken or chips from takeaways, snack foods such as crisps, biscuits, cakes and pastries are all foods to avoid or limit to occasional treats if you want to reduce your cholesterol level.
Similarly, eating an abundance of fresh fruit and vegetables, whole grains and reduced fat dairy products into your diet will all help the body and maintain a healthy lifestyle. Choosing to eat more fish instead of meat and including soluble fibre rich foods such as legumes, seeds and nuts will all provide the body with the healthy fats it needs.
Doing more exercise is beneficial to reduce cholesterol too, as an active lifestyle will get the heart pumping blood around the body and prevent cholesterol from building up in the bloodstream.