Last time, we looked at Essential Fatty Acids (EFAs) and the important role they play in your diet.
Now, it’s time to talk about the dreaded C-word … Cholesterol.
For a long time we were told to avoid foods like eggs and butter in order to lower cholesterol, but as the importance of high-fat diets is in the spotlight, we’re looking at the role that cholesterol plays on your body and why you might actually need it!
How does cholesterol work?
First – let’s talk about your liver.
One of the main functions of the liver is to create and eliminate/distribute cholesterol throughout the body. It is also a big factor in proper hormone and nutrient distribution and balance.
If there is too much [bad] cholesterol coming into your body, it may cause damage to your liver. Damage to your liver means poor breakdown and elimination of fats, sugars, hormones… the list can go on (we’ll talk about that another time!)
Now, onto cholesterol.
It is used in the body similar to how other fats (like EFA’s) are used: it helps to build and renew cells, keeps nerves protected and healthy, is a pre-cursor to hormones in the body, and is required to manufacture Vitamin D – if you live in B.C., you need all the Vitamin D you can get this time of year!
BUT – there are two types of cholesterol. One that will do the above, and another that tends to create more inflammation in the body and a variety of other issues.
What is LDL (low-density lipoprotein)?
LDL tends to be called “bad cholesterol”, as it is associated with creating plaque in the arteries. This develops when these cholesterol molecules come to help with inflammation, but then harden into plaque as it builds up and pulls in other toxins or minerals from the blood stream.
Foods linked to increasing LDL include:
- Processed foods, particularly processed meats, canned food and fast-food
- Dairy (milk, yogurt, butter, mayonnaise, cheeses)
- Red meats
What is HDL (high-density lipoprotein)?
HDL has been considered the “good cholesterol” like you find in fish, seeds and avocado. It actually helps to “clear out" LDL, reducing your risk of cardiovascular-related diseases.
Some other foods that can help to raise your HDL levels include:
- Olive Oil
- Beans and legumes
- Whole grains (i.e. oatmeal)
- High-fibre fruit
- Chia and flax seeds and oils
Can I manage my cholesterol with food?
If you make the right food choices, it’s likely you can keep your cholesterol in check – think filling your plate with lots of veggies tossed in good quality oil, with some grilled chicken breast.
However, if you’re experiencing issues related to cholesterol – it’s important to speak with your doctor first, before relying only on diet and exercise.
Prevention is key! So start incorporating high-fibre foods and quality fats (like those listed above) to get on the right foot!