We often hear that cholesterol is bad. We hear that we have to stay away from food containing too much cholesterol. It is one of the main elements measured by doctors when you get your annual checkup. How many of us have been told by our physician that we needed to lower our cholesterol level? So we associate it as something bad…
What Is Cholesterol?
It is a molecule (a sterol) comprised in all animal cell membranes that allows the structure to maintain integrity and fluidity. Not only is it important for cells to be able to change shape, unlike the plants, it also allows our body to convert steroid hormones, bile acids and vitamin D into more complex compounds so that our body can fully beneficiate from them.
That is why animal products contain cholesterol and plant products don't. If you are unsure as to if a product will be high in cholesterol or not, the easy way is to think about its source. Is it a grain? Is it a plant? Is it a vegetal? Which wouldn't contain LDL cholesterol. Or is it animal based?
Which would be associated with cholesterol.
What Are The Types Of Cholesterol?
There are three types of cholesterol and another lipid that interact with them. The three types are HDL high-density lipoprotein, LDL low-density lipoprotein and VLDL very low-density lipoprotein. Triglycerides, another type of lipid interacts with them. I will address the two main types of cholesterol: HDL (known as the good cholesterol) and LDL (referred to as the bad one). To remember which one is which, here is my trick: HDL = H = Healthy. LDL = L = Lousy.
Here is a way to understand cholesterol’s role in your body. You have a long highway of tubes, veins and arteries making up your circulation system. We are faced to different stresses in our life that can damage this circulation system. High blood pressure, high blood sugar, the effects of cigarettes, and other factors can nick the smooth inner layer of your arteries creating little 'holes' or irregularities in that inner layer.
When going through your body, the LDL cholesterol (the lousy one) notices these holes or irregularities and it starts to fill these holes. It’s like putty that you put on drywall when there is a hole that needs to be filled. The LDL putty is also trying to regularize the shape of the arteries when there are some fat deposits (like the fat present in most processed foods, on the side of a steak, and in hydrogenated fat and shortening). If there is a little lump of fat sitting in your artery, the LDL adds more putty trying to create an even surface again. But this results in making the arteries smaller, to eventually clogging them. This concept is known as plaque formation. This LDL is really doing his job, however he is pretty lazy at it and is doing a poor job, leaving lots of putty behind, making your arteries smaller, leaving less space for the transportation of great nutrients, blood, oxygen, etc.
The good cholesterol travels around in your highway of arteries and notices the poor job made by the LDL. It stops at the intersections where the site of an LDL operation has happened and it cleans up the mess left by the lazy cholesterol. It is like a spatula that you use on your putty job when dry-walling. The HDL comes along and “fixes” the problem that LDL started. Ideally, we would need more HDL than LDL as we want as much chances for our arteries to be clean and our highways carrying as much nutrient and healthy blood as possible.
We should aim to have a higher ratio of HDL vs. LDL.
How Do We Lower Our LDL And Increase Our HDL?
Exercise and living a smoke-free life will definitively help in lowering your LDL cholesterol. Eating less saturated fat and increasing consumption of monounsaturated fats and polyunsaturated fats (the Essential Fatty acids (EFA'S) known also as omega 3, 6 and 9) will also contribute to increase your HDL level. These types of fats can be found notably in extra virgin olive oil, which is also loaded with antioxidants that will contribute to lower your LDL cholesterol, virgin flaxseed oil, virgin GMO-free canola oil and virgin walnut oil. Whole grains will contribute to lower your LDL cholesterol as well.