Oftentimes, when we think of cholesterol, we think of bad. We think of heart attacks, clogged arteries, hardened arteries, and even death. However, there are a few different types of cholesterol, and not all of them are bad. Because cholesterol is considered a fat substance, it is not water soluble. This also means that fat cannot move through the bloodstream on its own. To transport fat throughout the body, our bodies bind them to cholesterol, triglycerides, and phospholipids. These are known as lipoproteins.
We have our HDL (High-density lipoprotein) as well as our LDL (Low-density lipoprotein) and even VLDL (Very low-density lipoprotein).
Before getting into each different type of cholesterol, I’ll talk about what cholesterol’s function in the body is. A few of the greatest roles cholesterol plays a part in are hormone manufacturing, digestion, and even the structural component of our cells.
Cholesterol plays a very important part in aiding in hormone production. Cholesterol produces steroid hormones which directly affects our weight, sex, digestion, bone health, and mental health. Without cholesterol, we could have major disturbances in those areas. Cholesterol is stored in the adrenal glands, ovaries for women, and testes for men, and is converted into the steroid hormone.
Cholesterol is also used to help the liver create bile. The bile from the liver helps our bodies digest food properly, especially fats. If our bodies cannot digest these fats, they can get pushed through the intestinal wall into the bloodstream. In turn, this can lead to clogged arteries causing heart attacks and heart disease.
Cholesterol is also a major structural component of our cells. They help provide a protective barrier for our cells to prevent damage being done to them. When the cholesterol levels increase or decrease the cells change which affects our bodies ability to metabolize and produce proper energy. Our cell health and the role cholesterol play in that health affects numerous aspects of our bodies functions.
Now for the good cholesterol. High-density lipoproteins, or HDL, are the kind of cholesterol you want. HDL serves as the driving force within our blood stream. If our HDL is at a good level, it helps push out all excess cholesterol and plaque build up by sending it to the liver. In the long run, this lowers your risk of heart attack, disease, stroke, and even death. The ideal HDL level is 60 mg/dl (milligrams per deciliter) or greater.
Low-density lipoproteins (LDL) and very low-density lipoproteins (VLDL) are the bad forms of cholesterol. LDL’s are bad because they contain a much larger portion of triglycerides. When the triglyceride level is high, HDL level is low, and LDL level is high, it causes the fats to stick to the arterial walls. This results in them turning to plaque and increasing the risk of heart attack, disease, stroke, clogged arteries, and death.
There are numerous things you can do to increase your HDL and lower your LDL. To lower your LDL, you want to avoid saturated fats and trans fats. To decrease these fats, you want to eat more vegetables, fruits, grains, beans, and legumes than you do meats and processed foods. Some great choices to keep HDL levels higher and LDL levels lower are:
- Olive Oil
- Beans and legumes
- Whole grains
- Nuts (almonds, pistachios, peanuts, etc) and Seeds (chia, flax)
Another very important aspect of keeping HDL and LDL levels both at healthy levels is exercise. Food and exercise are the two most important ways you can keep levels where they need to be and reduce the risk of heart attack, disease, stroke, hardening of the arteries, and plaque build up.