Watching Your Cholesterol

Do You Care About Your Cholesterol?

It gets blamed for everything, from heart disease to Alzheimer’s disease, and is considered one of the most important risk factors in the diet. But is that true? While researching a post about cholesterol, I was surprised by the sheer amount of conflicting information available. You might be asking yourself, how can this be? I thought cholesterol was just bad for you! I decided to do some research and write a brief explanation surrounding the myths and truths behind cholesterol.

Cholesterol is often a villainous, misunderstood, and purportedly “bad” molecule in the body. Cholesterol is a very important nutrient. It helps keep your cells intact, it’s an important part of our cell membranes, and it maintains the structure of our brain. There are so many myths, truths, and lies. I am on Keto, so I eat a lot of fat, and often am asked if that is bad for my cholesterol. Others ask if cholesterol is even tied to heart disease.

Our Livers Make Cholesterol

Cholesterol is needed for several critical processes including healthy cell linings throughout our body. For this reason, we both eat cholesterol and make our own. Making cholesterol is done by the liver and called Lipogenesis. Where it gets tricky is if our insulin is elevated for a while, ie we are insulin resistant, the type of cholesterol produced by the liver will be more LDL, the small “bad” cholesterol, all conditions that put us at higher risk for developing diabetes and heart disease.

Cholesterol and Brain Health

Our brains are 2% of our body weight and contain 20-25% of our total cholesterol. How does nutrition or lack of it go beyond just heart health? Is a low-carb diet good for my brain? 

Cholesterol is a misunderstood biomolecule. The cholesterol we’ve been told to be so concerned about does not come from eating eggs or red meat but is produced in our body. Our brain is one of the biggest consumers of cholesterol. Paradoxically our brain makes its cholesterol, and some can cross the blood-brain barrier. Cholesterol is brain protective.

Cholesterol and Whole Food Diets

Healthier foods like liver, butter, eggs, avocados, and coconut oil – all of which contain cholesterol – are stigmatized as unhealthy because they contain dietary cholesterol. Some of the most nutrient-rich foods like liver and eggs contain cholesterol and yet are sometimes called superfoods. Why? Because they are packed with nutrients, antioxidants, vitamins, anti-inflammatory properties, and other important health properties. On the other hand, we can generate more dangerous cholesterol through our liver when we eat processed foods and excess carbs. So, stress less over nutrient-rich whole foods and focus on removing sugar and fast foods from our diets.

Toxic Combo: Fast Foods and Cholesterol

Our modern-day diet is filled with hyper-palatable fast and processed foods. Even when consuming the low-fat versions of these types of foods, your liver is producing more bad cholesterol and triglycerides. One of the worst villains is fast foods because the oils and chemicals are inflammatory, and the type of cholesterol the most dangerous.  

Fast foods, which include French fries, hamburgers, pizza, and fried chicken are loaded with trans fats. Not only do these oils increase free-radical damage in the body, but they also increase your risk of heart disease. On the other hand, coconut oil has anti-viral properties that assist in fighting off infections. Coconut oil is high in medium-chain triglycerides that are easily converted to energy by the liver. When compared to other saturated fats, MCTs are metabolized differently by the body and do not cause as much stress to the liver. As a result, consuming healthy sources of saturated fats in moderation will help you improve your healthy cholesterol levels.

Cholesterol: Inflammation is Enemy #1

Inflammation is the common factor in chronic disease, including cancer. Inflammation is a response by the body, fighting something that needs healing, something that is wrong. High blood pressure, metabolic disease, diabetes, Alzheimer’s are all inflammatory processes. What does this have to do with cholesterol? Heart disease is inflammatory, thus cholesterol markers that correlate with inflammation are the ones that correlate with heart disease, i.e. triglycerides and LDL.

It’s common knowledge that inflammation is behind most diseases, especially those involving the heart. As many chronic diseases are caused by inflammation, lowering inflammation is a key component to improving health. Inflammation is what causes blockages in your arteries. It may feel as if the cholesterol is causing it, but it is not.

Untangling the Knot: LDL and HDL Cholesterol

The goal of the article is to get people away from thinking that cholesterol is nothing but a bad thing. If you remove enough of it from your bloodstream, then you don’t have a problem. What we need to understand is to maintain good health, our objective should be to reduce the levels of LDL, while at the same time increasing HDL levels. There are certain things we can do in our daily lives that will help us reach those objectives and improve our overall levels of heart health, and one step is understanding the roles of HDL and LDL, and where they come from.

In a nutshell, LDL cholesterol is responsible for cholesterol transport, HDL cholesterol takes out the garbage. LDL is called low density because it has less protein, carries more cholesterol, and deposits cholesterol in arteries. HDL, a high density of protein, is large and fluffy, picking up cholesterol in arteries and dropping them off at the liver. The HDL/LDL ratio can be somewhat arbitrary because within each measure, HDL or LDL, there are ranges, i.e. your large fluffy ones may be borderline small. There is an arbitrary line between large and small that doesn’t take into account the full spectrum. 

10 Minute Tips, Improving Cholesterol Levels:

  • Eat whole foods, avoid processed foods, chemicals, sugar, and fast foods.  
  • Among the fats and oils, industrial oils contain high Omega 6 levels, thus causing inflammation, so cooking with either monounsaturated fats like olive and avocado oils and fully saturated fats like coconut oils are both good for producing healthy, fluffy cholesterol.
  • Increase soluble fiber because this can help reduce the absorption of cholesterol in your body. Suggested food with soluble fiber: oatmeal, kidney beans, Brussel sprouts, walnuts, and flaxseeds. 
  • Increase your physical activity. With your doctor’s advice, exercise at least thirty minutes five times a week. Suggested short activities: Brisk walking, and riding your bike to work.

Summary Cholesterol 10 Minute Tips:

Improve your cholesterol levels with proper diet and exercise.

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