Cholesterol is a waxy substance your body both produces and absorbs from the foods you eat. It is a natural part of the body and actually helps to make up your brain, skin and hormones. There are also different types of cholesterol that do different things. However, sometimes we can get too much or too little of the wrong ones.
Types of Cholesterol
LDL- This cholesterol is considered a BAD cholesterol. Think L for lousy. We want less of this one because it can block the artery walls.
HDL- This cholesterol is considered a GOOD cholesterol. So think H for healthy. We want lots of this one because it can remove both of the bad cholesterol from the body.
TG- This stands of triglycerides. Triglycerides are also a BAD cholesterol. When we get too much of these, the blood becomes thick and has trouble circulating.
What changes our cholesterol?
There are some risk factors you cannot changes about your cholesterol like your genetics, age and gender. However there are a lot of things you can do that will help.
Major things that can help include managing your stress, getting adequate sleep, quitting smoking and exercising. What to eat is a little more complicated, so I am only going to focus on one of the major questions I get about this:
Do I need to avoid cholesterol in my food?
It's true that on many packages you will see cholesterol. Normally you will only see it on products that are animal based. That is because this is where cholesterol is normally found. So things like meats, cheese and eggs are most likely to have it. Cholesterol is an important thing to watch. and overall you want to focus on getting less of it (while still eating a balanced diet).
What is probably MORE important is the types of fats you eat. There are lots of different fats in our foods and they seem to have a very strong impact on cholesterol.
Types of Fat
Trans Fats- Trans fats our a man-made fat that many companies use as a cheap substitute to save money in food products. This is something you should avoid as much as you can since it not only increases bad cholesterol but it decreases good cholesterol as well. You will mainly find it is packaged products like cookies, cakes, chocolate bars, frozen dinners and granola bars. Read the label and look for 0 grams of trans fats. If you are still concerned, check the ingredients list for the words hydrogenated or partially hydrogenated in front of the name of an oil. That may indicate there is trans fat.
Saturated Fat- This is mainly found in animal products and some tropical oils. Too much can increase your bad cholesterol so we want to try and get less of it. It is not necessary to avoid it completely though. Some easy ways to reduce your saturated fat include choosing low fat meats and dairy products, limiting eggs to 4/week and using less butter.
Monounsaturated Fat- This is a good fat which we want to include in moderate amounts. It can help boost good cholesterol. Sources include avocados, olive oil, nuts, seeds and fish.
Polyunsaturated Fat- There are 3 different types of this fat known as omega 3,6 and 9. They are mainly found in plants and vary in their effect on cholesterol. We don't need as much of the omega 6 and 9 as we do the omega 3. Omega 3 is very beneficial because it lowers triglycerides. You can find it in a lot of seafood as well as walnuts, flax seed and canola.
So overall, try to eliminate trans fats, reduce saturated fats and focus on including some monounsaturated and omega 3 sources of fat. These are just a couple of the steps you can take to help improve your cholesterol. For more information, be sure to speak to your family doctor, local dietitian or come visit me at one of my events!