Cholesterol, good cholesterol, bad cholesterol! You might have heard these words a lot or you may have tested your blood for it, but don’t really know the significance. Nutritionally you may also ask what elevates your blood cholesterol, and what you can do to control it.
To start with the basics, you can get cholesterol in two ways:
Your body: The liver produces varying amounts of cholesterol
The food you eat: Those of animal origin – especially egg yolks, meat, chicken, fish, seafood and whole-milk dairy products contain cholesterol. While plant foods such as fruits, vegetables, grains, nuts and seeds, don't contain any cholesterol!
Does food cholesterol increase your blood cholesterol?
Contrary to what you might think, dietary cholesterol doesn’t automatically become blood cholesterol! Saturated fat (mainly found in animal products like butter, ghee, high fat meat and dairy products) has a more significant effect on blood cholesterol levels than dietary cholesterol does – making it a bigger health threat as it increases the risk of heart disease and stroke.
While some of the excess dietary cholesterol is removed from the body through the liver, it is recommended that you should limit your average daily cholesterol intake to less than 300 milligrams for better heart health. What you should also remember is that by keeping your dietary intake of saturated fats low, you can significantly lower your dietary cholesterol intake. The reason for this is because foods high in saturated fat generally contain substantial amounts of dietary cholesterol. This is why it’s recommended to choose low fat versions for meat and dairy, and cook with vegetable oil instead of butter or ghee.
Is the diet the only factor that affects cholesterol level in the blood?
Actually, it isn’t. There are other important factors that can affect blood cholesterol; some of them you can control, some you cannot:
- Weight: Being overweight may decrease HDL, the good cholesterol that helps the body to get rid of LDL, the bad cholesterol
- Activity Level: Lack of physical activity may increase bad cholesterol and decrease good cholesterol
- Age and Gender: After you reach 20, your cholesterol levels naturally begin to rise. While in men, cholesterol levels generally increase with age, in women, cholesterol levels stay fairly low until menopause, after which they rise to about the same level as in men
- Overall Health: Having certain diseases, such as diabetes or hypothyroidism, may cause high cholesterol
- Family History: If a family member has high cholesterol, you may too, as the body produces high amounts of cholesterol
- Cigarette Smoking: Smoking can lower your good cholesterol and increase the risk of strokes.
The good news is that there are many factors that you can change in order to lower your blood cholesterol for better heart health. You can take care of your diet, lose weight, maintain an active lifestyle and stop smoking. And of course whenever you test your blood values, it’s always recommended to visit your physician for proper interpretation of the results and advice.