Diet & Cholesterol: General Info

Cholesterol, a soft and waxy matter found in cells and bloodstreams, facilitates the production of hormones and cell membranes, and is a necessary substance for the proper function of the human body. The liver produces approximately 1,000 milligrams of cholesterol each day, and is obtained through animal products such as dairy products, eggs, fish, meat, poultry, and seafood.

Types of cholesterol

There are 2 types of cholesterol:

  • Low-Density Lipoprotein (LDL)
  • High-Density Lipoprotein (HDL).

Low-density lipoprotein (LDL)

LDL, also known as bad cholesterol, carries approximately to ¾ of the blood cholesterol. Excessive amounts of LDL in the blood, built up along the artery walls, may possibly cause atherosclerosis, the narrowing and clogging of arteries that lead to the brain and heart. These clots block blood flow to the brain and heart, triggering strokes and heart attacks. The average amount of LDL in the body should be under 100mg/dL. Lower LDL levels suggest a reduced chance of developing coronary heart disease.

High-density lipoprotein (HDL)

HDL, also known as good cholesterol, carries approximately to ¼ of the blood cholesterol from one's arteries to the liver, the organ that eliminates extra cholesterol. Higher quantities of HDL in the bloodstream, above 60mg/dL, eliminate HDL buildup in arteries, and reduce the potential for heart disease and stroke. However, low levels of HDL increase the risk of heart disease and stroke.

Sources of cholesterol

There are 4 main types of fat:

  • Saturated fats, such as butter and the white fat that is found in meats, will increase one's cholesterol level. A distinct characteristic of saturated fat is that it is solid at room temperature.

  • Unsaturated fats, such as olive and vegetable oils, remain in liquid form at room temperature.
  • Polyunsaturated fats, found in corn, safflower, soy, and sunflower oils, reduce both LDL and HDL levels in the blood.
  • Monounsaturated fats, which come from canola, olive, and peanut oils, are the most beneficial in reducing LDL without affecting HDL.

Saturated and trans fat intake should be limited to ensure a healthy and stable cholesterol level. One's daily fat intake should not be more than 30 percent of one's daily caloric intake.

Although eggs whites are high in protein, 1 egg yolk has 250mg of cholesterol, almost the entire recommended daily intake amount. It is best to either use only egg whites or limit the amount of eggs used to no more than 3 each week. To keep cholesterol levels low, one should also pass up fried foods. Instead, bake, broil, microwave, poach, or steam food. Reduce the amount of red meat, and substitute it with fish, legumes, and poultry. Consume low-fat dairy products as well as whole, unprocessed grains. All fruits and vegetables, with the exception of coconuts and avocados, have low amounts of saturated fat.

Since the liver produces enough cholesterol on its own, consumption of cholesterol-laden foods is unnecessary and may adversely affect one's health. According to the American Heart Association, an average individual's daily intake of cholesterol is 400 to 500mg, but the recommended amount should not exceed 300mg each day.

Taking a cholesterol test

A cholesterol test is a simple procedure that involves fasting for 8 to 10 hours before blood is drawn and analyzed. Add the LDL and HDL together to get the total amount of cholesterol in the blood. Ideally, the sum of these 2 numbers should not exceed 200mg/dL. If your test results show high cholesterol, a few simple lifestyle adjustments such as a healthy diet and regular exercise should be sufficient to reduce cholesterol to a normal level.

For more information on understanding the results of your cholesterol test see the following article from TheDietChannel: How to Understand the Results of Your Cholesterol Test.