Lifestyle How to Demystify Cholesterol


A lot of people are confused between good and bad cholesterol.  Just like the word “Fat,” people hear it, and they only hear that it is all bad.  The message that there are good and bad cholesterol and fat confuses a lot of people.  This post, hopefully, will clarify (demystify) cholesterol.

What is cholesterol anyway?

Cholesterol is a compound that is essential in the structure of cell membranes and the creation of some other compounds in the body.  To put it simply, it is a type of fat that is in the blood.  This fat is made in the liver.  Because it is created in the body and is in every cell in our bodies, there must be a purpose for this compound.  The purpose of cholesterol is for brain, skin, and other organ function.

Cholesterol floats around in our blood and can get into the walls of the blood vessels. This can cause the blood vessels to get stiffer, narrower, or clogged. If the clogging gets worse over many years, it can cause a heart attack or stroke in adults.  This buildup can start as early as childhood.

Two types of Cholesterols

Low-Density Lipoproteins (LDL) carry the cholesterol from the liver into the bloodstream.  High-Density Lipoproteins (HDL) carry the cholesterol back to the liver to be broken down.  A high proportion of the LDL is what leads to clogging up the arteries, restricting blood flow and leading to strokes and even heart attacks.  I have seen this explained to children as “L” stands for “Lowsy” and “H” stands for “Healthy.”

Causes of high LDL Cholesterol

An increase in bad cholesterol has been attributed to the following: Obesity; lack of exercise; large waist circumference (40+ inches in men/35+ inches in women); a poor diet that is high in red meat, high in full fat dairy, high in saturated fats, high in trans fats, and high in processed foods.

Foods that increase badlousy cholesterol are untrimmed red meat; fried foods; foods baked in saturated fats and trans fats; full-fat dairy foods; foods with hydrogenated oils; and tropical oils.

Foods that promote HDL (Good)  Cholesterol

Good cholesterol can be increased by eating a diet that includes the following: a wide range of fruits and vegetables; whole grains; skinless poultry; lean pork; lean red meat; baked or grilled fish (especially salmon and tuna); unsalted seeds, nuts, and legumes; use vegetable or olive oils sparingly.

Ways to treat high cholesterol levels

Some of the ways to lower cholesterol levels are: stop smoking; eat a healthy diet as listed above; exercise regularly; reduce stress.

The effects of smoking have been known for at least 50 years.  Quitting smoking should be a no brainer, not just for lowering cholesterol, but for good health in general.  Does eating a healthy diet mean you give up some of the other foods that are not good for you?  Of course not.  It just means to reduce the frequency of bad foods.  I grew up in west Texas.  I like fried catfish and chicken fried steak with white gravy.  It has probably been a year or two since I have had either of these items.  I recently found baked Chilean Sea Bass.  That was incredible and now one of my favorite fish.

Exercise daily should not be a chore.  Find activities that you enjoy and do them often.  How long has it been since you have been skating (roller or ice)?  How long has it been since you have gone dancing?  This one is easy if you have toddlers around.  As for reducing stress, you can read a book instead of watching TV.  You can also reduce stress by doing some forms of exercise such as yoga or pilates.  Some people reduce their stress by doing boxing (hitting a heavy bag) or by weight lifting.  Others find doing marathons or triathlons relaxing.  These are just ideas to help show you the variety that is out there.

Hopefully, this demystified cholesterol for you.  I hope I explained what cholesterol is, what the different types are, how both types are raised, and how to lower bad cholesterol.  As always, check with your health care provider to see what your situation is and to see which of these ideas will help you.



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