Recently I’ve helped a registered dietitian to prepare a short presentation on cholesterol, so I thought I could just use that as the first informative entry of this blog! I’ve tried to keep the facts really simple so people who have heard about cholesterol but know nearly nothing about it will be able to read and found out the basic facts. At the end, I’ve listed several places that people can look to find further information. Hopefully, everyone who ventures to my blog and read this page will be able to learn a new fact or know where to go to find more detailed information.
What is it?
- Type of fat that all animals produce (that includes humans!)
- essential building block for every cell
Where can it be found?
- In animal foods
- In our body in different areas
The total amount of cholesterol in our bodies comes from 2 sources: self-produced and obtained from animal foods.
Cholesterol becomes a concern when it flows in the blood at a high concentration.
Why should we care?
Cholesterol is a two-edged blade.
It is necessary to have enough cholesterol so that our cells can maintain their functions. But when we have too much of it, the excess will accumulate in the bloodstream, and increase the risks for getting cardiovascular problems, such as heart attack or stroke.
How to find out if your cholesterol level is hitting the danger zone?
Firstly, it is important to note that cholesterol is carried in the bloodstream in 2 forms: HDL & LDL.
LDL carries the cholesterol from the liver to all parts of the body via the bloodstream. When it lingers in the blood, it can stick to the walls and narrow the passageway.
HDL brings excess cholesterol back to the liver; it “cleanses” the blood.
Secondly, we measure the concentration of HDL and LDL to determine if cholesterol levels are in the tolerable range. Generally speaking, the higher the HDL value the better and lower the LDL value the better.
Thirdly, we also need to take note of the total cholesterol level in the blood. The exact normal range for each individual may differ depending on their risk factors for cardiovascular diseases.
Four ways to maintain / lower cholesterol levels:
Eat less food that contain saturated fats and/or trans-fat foods. Saturated fats can be found in fatty meats, homogenous milk and other animal foods. Next time you eat toast, instead of spreading butter, try putting on non-hydrogenated margarine, or try jams. Trans-fat is often hidden in baked goods and processed foods. Try to pick out food products that have zero trans-fat or try doing your own baking to control what ingredients to put in.
Try to eat more of the foods that contain unsaturated fats. Soybean oil and canola oil are good sources of unsaturated fats, why not try using those for cooking next time. Nuts, another great source of unsaturated fats, make a great snack that’s not only tasty but healthy! (Remember, only a handful a day is enough! Nuts are high-calorie foods, and eating too much will make you fat!)
Do exercise on a regular basis. When you exercise, the HDL level will increase, lowering the possibilities of LDL depositing on the blood vessel walls.
- Increase the intake of dietary fiber, namely soluble fiber. Soluble fiber becomes gel-like inside the intestine; it traps bile and eliminate it from the body. The body will then use blood cholesterol to make new bile, replacing the lost amount. Thus, total blood cholesterol in the body decreases. Soluble fiber is present in foods such as brown rice, oats, apples, legumes and root vegetables. Always try to include high fiber foods in your diet – choosing whole-grain foods is one option because it goes through very little food processing (in some cases, no food processing at all). During food processing, fiber is gradually lost and so it is important to eat natural and fresh foods to get the most fiber out of it.
Other places to visit to find out more about this topic:
Here is a Chinese Cholesterol Fact Sheet for my Chinese readers. Enjoy!