Did you know that the only food that contains cholesterol is animal products?
Cholesterol, even though it has bad reputation, is actually essential for things such as creation of vitamin D and bile salts (used for digestion); supporting cell structure; healing tissue damage from inflammation; and helping to produce some hormones.
If you’re not consuming cholesterol in your diet, your liver makes it. So vegans can still have high cholesterol. What your body does, it makes what it needs, based on your overall health, to make up for what it’s not getting from your diet.
Too much cholesterol is the issue, whether it is from your diet or not, and it’s a sign of much larger picture of health. It indicates that there are other issues that need attention! These issues could include inflammation, high blood pressure, sluggish liver, stress, high blood sugar, and of course, poor diet.
To go into more detail, there are two different kids of proteins that are bound to cholesterol to help deliver them, which you may have heard of before: LDL (low density lipoprotein) and HDL (high density lipoprotein). LDL is known as the “bad” cholesterol and HDL is known as the “good” cholesterol.
Our bodies make both LDL and HDL. LDL is used to deliver cholesterol from the liver, using the blood stream to get it around the body. That is why if you have too much LDL, cholesterol can be accidentally deposited in the arteries, leading to blockages. HDL's job is to take the cholesterol back to the liver to be recycled or eliminated. Issues arise when you have more LDL in your body and less HDL. When this happens, HDL isn’t able to clean out all the surplus LDL from the body, and there becomes a build up of cholesterol in the arteries. And because cholesterol is very sticky, other things end up sticking to it, causing a blockage.
One example of this scenario, is when you have damage to your arteries. This is caused from inflammation, which is caused from things like poor diet (diet high in sugar, processed and fried foods) or high-stress lifestyle. When there is damage to the arteries, your liver sends LDL cholesterol to them to help repair the damage. Once repaired, HDL cholesterol comes to pick up the LDL and take it back to the liver for either re-use or elimination. However, if there isn't enough HDL to go get the LDL, it will stay in the arteries, and because of it's waxy, sticky texture, will start to build up and cause a blockage, which in the long term can lead to atherosclerosis, or blocked arteries.
You can test your cholesterol levels through blood test from your doctor to see what numbers are.
How to improve your cholesterol (and keep it at a healthy level!):
1. EAT (soluble) FIBRE - soluble fibre helps to get excess LDL cholesterol out of the body, by absorbing it. Foods that contain soluble fibre include: oatmeal, apples, pears, beans, sweet potato and Brussel sprouts.
2. STAY AWAY FROM HIGH SUGAR FOOODS, FAST FOOD & FRIED FOODS - these foods cause inflammation, and can also contain unhealthy fats and excess amounts of cholesterol. It's best to stick to a whole foods diet, with little processed foods.
3. REDUCE STRESS - stress can cause inflammation in the body, which as noted above, can increase the risk of high cholesterol in the arteries. Rather than trying to remove the stress in our lives, which can be sometimes impossible, try finding ways to help deal with the stress, such as meditation, exercise or yoga.
4. INCLUDE OMEGA-3 SUPPLEMENT - omega-3, which can be taken supplementally, or is found in small fish (think salmon, mackerel, sardines) as well as walnuts and flaxseeds, helps to decrease inflammation within the body and will help lower triglyercides in the blood stream.
5. MOVE YOUR BODY - exercise, even if it's just a walk around the block, everyday can help keep your cardiovascular system (heart, arteries, blood vessels etc) strong. Exercise also helps to increase HDL ('good' cholesterol) levels.
I've worked with many clients to decrease their cholesterol to a healthy level through food, supplements and lifestyle changes. Please feel free to comment or email me with any questions