A practical guide for cholesterol management
Our lifestyle has undergone tremendous changes in the past decades. We are on average taking more fats in our diets than previous. You might have heard that these dietary and lifestyle habits have increased cholesterol levels and also the incidence of cardiovascular diseases. What is this cholesterol? How it is produced in the body? What is its role? How can it harm the body? What lifestyle and dietary habits will allow you to lower your cholesterol levels? Let's answer these questions.
What is Cholesterol?
Cholesterol is a waxy compound produced by the body. Besides being produced in the body, it also comes through our diets. The foods that are particularly rich in cholesterol are eggs, dairy products and meats. But it's not all that harmful. Cholesterol has various functions in the body e.g.,
- It is an integral component of your cell membranes. Without it, cell membrane integrity cannot be maintained.
- It acts as a precursor for the synthesis of various hormones in the body e.g., sex hormones.
- It is a part of the myelin sheath (the protective covering of our nerves) and protects the nerves from damage.
Good vs Bad Cholesterol
You might wonder why we are so concerned about the levels of this useful compound. To answer this, you must understand the difference between good cholesterol and bad cholesterol.
Good cholesterols are known as High-Density Lipoproteins (''HDL''). While the bad cholesterols are Low-Density Lipoproteins (''LDL'').
The regular fat in your body is in the form of triglycerides. The sum of HDL and LDL is known as total cholesterol. A higher LDL can expose you to the risk of cardiovascular diseases while a higher level of HDL is not usually dangerous. It is recommended that the total cholesterol level in your blood should not exceed 200 mg/ dL. However, the levels of HDL and LDL are important factors that should be considered too.
LDL cholesterol is higher in the blood than the other one. Its recommended level in blood is less than 130 mg/dL. Its increased levels could expose you to cardiovascular problems and stroke.
The recommended level for HDL is equal to or less than 60 mg/dL. Lower levels would again expose a person to cardiovascular risks. Extra bad cholesterol can settle in your arteries in the form of plaques (atherosclerosis). The arteries will be occluded and blood supply to the organs will be reduced.
As the majority of cholesterol is produced within the body, only dietary changes would be insufficient. You need to modify your entire lifestyle to reduce the levels of bad cholesterol (LDL) and increase the levels of good cholesterol (HDL).
Here are some practical steps that could help you to reduce the bad cholesterol in your blood. Lifestyle will be a useful factor, but it alone is insufficient. As higher cholesterol is also related to the genes in your DNA, you would need to visit your family physician to keep it back to normal levels.
To see our Cholesterol Blood Test, click here.
Bodyweight is one of the important factors that predispose a person to higher levels of LDL. Extra slimming is not necessary. You need only to maintain an ideal weight. If you are obese, a 10lbs decrease in body weight will reduce the LDL by 8-10%. However, a rush could be harmful. Ideally, you should aim at losing 1-2 pounds per week. While losing weight, you should take the required calories according to your lifestyle to avoid hunger.
To learn more about weight loss, see our information page here.
Avoid taking saturated fats in food
The saturated fats e.g., vanaspati ghee is responsible for decreasing HDL and increasing LDL cholesterol. So be careful while purchasing the fats for your kitchen. Trans fats, hydrogenated fats, partially hydrogenated fats and saturated fats all are synonymous and should be avoided.
Replace the butter with olive oil
Olive oil is rich in good quality fats. This substitution can reduce LDL cholesterol levels by 15%. It is also beneficial for health. However, the processing of olive oil in plants will neutralise antioxidants in it. So a less processed form should be used.
Use nuts and lower your cholesterol
Nuts are energy-rich foods. They should be used with caution. But, they have useful compounds called sterols. These sterols decrease the absorption of cholesterol by coating the lining of the intestines.
Spices are efficient to reduce cholesterol
Traditionally, we are told about the demerits of spices. Wait a minute. They are extremely useful. Various types of spices e.g., cinnamon, garlic, black pepper, ginger, coriander and curcumin help your body to improve cholesterol levels. According to research, adding half to full garlic clove to your daily diet can lower the LDL by 10%. Additionally, the use of spices such as pickles also reduces appetite.
Laughter is also a medicine. It helps your body to reduce LDL. Various research has been submitted to prove it. So, it would be prudent to add some comedy and fun to your life.
Several studies have proved that smoking can disturb the balance between HDL and LDL in the favour of LDL. A recent study has highlighted that quitting smoking would result in a 5% decrease in bad cholesterol. Passive smoking has also been found to increase the levels of bad cholesterol.
To learn more about how to quit smoking and see what medications are available, click here.
Fibrous foods are the enemy of cholesterol
Fruits, beans, oatmeal etc. are rich in soluble fibres which decrease the absorption of cholesterol in the body. Fibres also provide a filling effect to your belly and reduce your food cravings. However, an abrupt increase in fibrous foods could result in abdominal bloating or cramps. A slow increase up to an optimum level is a more wise choice.
Fishes may help you to lower cholesterol
Fish meat is rich in omega-3 fatty acids which are heart-friendly. As saturated fats are abundantly found in red meats, it would be prudent to replace red meats with fish meat. It would also reduce the LDL in your body.
You would need to lower your cholesterol for a quality life. Follow these guidelines and educate others.
To see our Cholesterol Blood Test, click here.
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