Many people may be worried about their “cholesterol levels”, or whether they’re getting too much cholesterol in their diets.
Sterols are a large family of waxy lipids that are found in plants, animals, fungi and some bacteria. Cholesterol is a member of this family, and is an essential molecule in the body. We need cholesterol for making our cell membranes as well as other structures such as hormones.
So, cholesterol is not a bad thing in and of itself.
In fact, most of the cholesterol in circulation is made by the liver, and it doesn’t come from the foods we eat. The form of cholesterol in, say, an egg is not well absorbed in our gut.
Cholesterol production is carefully controlled by feedback mechanisms in the body, and isn’t significantly affected by the cholesterol we eat, although there is a strong genetic component to cholesterol levels. So, if you have high cholesterol, it may not be from your daily omelet; rather, it may be your parents’ fault.
However, as with other types of fats, cholesterol can’t travel on its own through the water-based bloodstream. It needs to hitch a ride on lipoproteins.
A “cholesterol test” or “lipid profile” that our doctor might ask us to do mostly tests our level of lipoproteins that carry cholesterol and triglycerides.
All lipoproteins are not created equal. We have several types of lipoproteins that carry fats around in the body. These vary by size and density.
These differences affect how they work in the body, and whether they pose a risk to us in the wrong amounts.
Chylomicrons carry fats from the small intestine to the liver. They’re the largest, and contain much more triglyceride than cholesterol.
Very low-density lipoproteins (VLDLs) are packaged in the liver to be sent elsewhere in the body.
Low-density lipoproteins (LDLs) carry what people often call “bad” cholesterol, because they travel in the bloodstream, carry fat to our cells and can oxidize in blood vessels, forming plaques that can lead to heart disease. We need them, but don’t want too much cholesterol in them.
High-density lipoproteins (HDLs) are the smallest particles, and contain the most cholesterol relative to triglyceride. They carry what’s often thought of as “good cholesterol”. Generally, we want the cholesterol in these particles to be a little higher, as they’re like the “cholesterol cleanup crew” that shuttles cholesterol back to the liver for recycling.
Decades ago, the news linking cholesterol in the bloodstream to heart disease prompted an all-out war on cholesterol in food. From the 1960s on, people were advised to stay away from foods rich in cholesterol—like eggs, dairy foods, and some types of seafood, for example. But today . . . Today, science suggests that, for most people, dietary cholesterol has only a modest effect on the amount of cholesterol in the bloodstream.
In fact, the 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans eliminated an earlier recommendation to limit dietary cholesterol to 300 milligrams (mg) per day—although they still suggest caution on overall intake. But continue avoiding saturated fats. Saturated fat in the diet clearly does raise LDL by a significant amount and should still be consumed in limited quantities.
Targeting high triglycerides
Obesity, alcohol abuse, a diet high in saturated fat, or illnesses such as poorly controlled diabetes, chronic kidney disease, or liver disease can cause high triglyceride levels. If your triglycerides are elevated I suggest to try these dietary changes
CHOOSE CARBS WISELY: Triglycerides go up when you eat a lot of easily digested carbohydrates like white bread, white rice, chips, sugar-laden breakfast cereals, and sugar-sweetened drinks.
Choose whole grains whenever possible.
Avoid foods with a lot of added sugar.
Remember that even foods like wholewheat bread can still contain a significant amount of carbohydrates.
AVOID SATURATED FATS: Cut back on saturated fats from meat, milk, cheese, and other dairy products, which elevate triglycerides …AND OPT FOR UNSATURATED FATS: While avoiding dairy products, try to eat more unsaturated fat from plants, oils like Olive oil, and fish, which bring down triglycerides.
KEEP AN EYE ON ADDED SUGARS: Fructose, or fruit sugar, has become abundant in our diet. You’ll find it in table sugar, the cane and beet sugars used to sweeten cereals and baked goods, and high-fructose corn syrup. The breakdown of fructose turns on triglyceride production.
Don’t give up fruit. Instead, ratchet back fructose intake by consuming fewer sugar-sweetened foods and beverages.
INCLUDE FISH IN YOUR DIET: Eating fish twice a week, especially fatty fish like salmon, tuna, and sardines, is good for triglyceride levels. Bake, broil, steam, or poach it-fried fish isn’t quite as good for you.
CUT BACK ON ALCOHOL: In some people, drinking alcohol can significantly elevate triglycerides. If your triglycerides are high, you may want to avoid alcohol completely for a few weeks and have your triglycerides tested again.