Cholesterol: Is it Good or Bad? Foods, Facts, Health Risks

cholesterol foods good bad

Have you’ve ever wondered if cholesterol is good or bad? Or confused about what foods are good for cholesterol?

If you have, you might already know there is an avalanche of misconceptions and myths about cholesterol.

All the misconceptions, however, do not change the truth about cholesterol, the food we eat and how it impacts our bodies. 

Cholesterol has been mostly associated with several morbidities and disease. This article will reveal the double-edged profile of cholesterol and help to reveal subsequent measures to take in the different applicable ways. 

What is cholesterol?

Cholesterol is a term derived from Greek words, which translates to “bile solid”. It is an important lipid synthesized by cells of the body. 

An essential component of the cell membrane, it has numerous functions on the cell, and it is also a precursor to vitamin D and steroid molecules. Even though the body produces its cholesterol, you can also get it from the diet.

What are the benefits of cholesterol?

The benefits of cholesterol involve all the systems in the body since the liver, and most of the body cells make it. So why is cholesterol important? Here are four reasons:

  1. It makes up the cell membrane. This means that it is responsible for whatever enters or leaves the cell.
  2. It constitutes hormones. Remember, we said that cholesterol is a precursor to steroids — hormones such as testosterone, estrogen, and the several hormones of the adrenal glands like cortisol.
  3. It is needed for the production of bile acids. Bile emulsifies fats, breaking them into smaller bits for digestion to occur. So, in essence, fat digestion is not possible without cholesterol.
  4. Vitamin D production. Cholesterol is one of the precursors of vitamin D, which helps in the body’s metabolism.

Is cholesterol good or bad?

There is no outright answer to this question. It all depends on the angle considered. Let me explain.

There is the so-called “good cholesterol” and “bad cholesterol”. HDL is often referred to as the good cholesterol while LDL is tagged the bad one. HDL cholesterol transports it from the cells to the liver when we eat food.

On the other hand, LDL cholesterol transports cholesterol from its site of production in the liver to other parts of the body. When either of HDL or LDL falls outside their normal range of values, then it could lead to a problem.

Also, increased levels of LDL cholesterol over time can narrow the lumen of blood vessels leading to the formation of plaque and subsequently atherosclerosis. When this happens, the tissues that these blood vessels supply become ischaemic and can even progress to be necrotic. 

The most common sites affected are the heart and the brain. In the brain, this may manifest as stroke, while in the heart, it could lead to myocardial infarction. 

Thus, HDL cholesterol levels should not be less than 50mg/dl, as they need to be high enough to counteract the effects of LDL cholesterol. LDL cholesterol levels greater than 180mg/dl carry an increased risk of morbidity.

What are some foods that increase good cholesterol?

Olive oil

Olive oil contains monosaturated fats as well as polyphenols, which have antioxidant properties. The virgin type is preferred to the processed one as it contains more of these antioxidants. Scientific research has shown these antioxidants to be responsible for the increase in good cholesterol.

Omega-3 containing fish

Probably the one that you are most familiar with, Omega-3 truly contains a rich HDL content. Examples, of fishes with a rich omega-3 profile, include salmon, herring, tuna, mackerel, anchovies, sardines, etc.

Nuts

Almonds and walnuts do not just lower the bad cholesterol. They also encourage the production of good cholesterol from the liver and contain omega-3 as well.

Kidney beans

A mixed bean cake with a lot of kidney beans is a good diet to increase good cholesterol. It is rich in antioxidants.

Orange juice

Rich in bioflavonoids, particularly hesperidin, glasses of orange juice increases good cholesterol by as much as 20 percent.

Blueberries

A small bowl of blueberries constantly eaten over time increases HDL cholesterol levels by almost 10%. This is due to its anthocyanin content according to a study in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition.

Eggs

Contrary to popular beliefs, eggs are a great source of good cholesterol.

Dates

Dates contain a complete mix of vitamins, minerals, and fibers. This fruit makes it a top choice for increasing those good cholesterol levels.

Flaxseed

Better absorbed in its ground form, flaxseed is a healthy source of omega-3. Dieticians usually recommend its inclusion in your diet.

Artichoke

While it is not everyone’s favorite vegetable, it has one of the richest sources of fibers, reducing the excretion of good cholesterol.

What are some foods that will lower bad cholesterol?

Beans

The principle behind this is that plant cells do not have cell membranes. Thus they do not contain cholesterol. However, they contain substances that can rather lower bad cholesterol. Beans is a rich soluble fiber and help you stay full for a long time, helping you to lose weight. This lowers the bad cholesterol.

Oats and oatmeal

Oats and oatmeal are whole grains that contain beta-glucan, which is a rich source of soluble fiber. They block the absorption of LDL cholesterol from the intestines according to studies.

Avocados

Avocado contains monosaturated fats as well as fiber. These help to reduce LDL cholesterol in the body through multiple physiological mechanisms backed up by bodies of clinical evidence.

Nuts

Almonds and walnuts have been called “brain-friendly” fruits. The reason for this is that they are rich in omega-3 and particularly in L-arginine, an amino acid that helps the body to produce nitric oxide.

Nitric oxide is a vasodilator that helps to reduce blood pressure. Additionally, nuts contain phytosterols, which block LDL cholesterol absorption by competitive inhibition at binding sites.

Fruits

Apples, oranges, grapes, and berries contain an active compound called pectin. This pectin reduces the production of cholesterol by the liver while concurrently stimulating the excretion of LDL cholesterol from the body.

Dark Chocolate

Dark chocolate has more important functions than just tasting well in your mouth. Its cocoa content is rich in flavonoids that lower bad cholesterol and increase the good one.

Eggplant

Eggplant contains soluble fibers which help to facilitate excretion of the LDL cholesterol.

Dark green leafy vegetables

Vegetables particularly kale and spinach have high carotenoid and lutein content that help to prevent heart diseases. They reduce LDL cholesterol levels by binding to bile salts, causing increased excretion.

Soy

Soy contains isoflavones, which have an anti-adipogenic effect. This yields a better glycaemic control and a reduction in the LDL cholesterol levels.

Garlic

Garlic’s active component is allicin. Allicin reduces the inflammation caused by LDL cholesterol and helps to lower the total cholesterol. It is often made into supplements to yield better results.

Can exercise lower the cholesterol levels?

Yes. Exercises, especially the high-intensity workouts, boost HDL cholesterol levels significantly. In turn, this good cholesterol helps to mop out the bad ones from the peripheral tissues and bloodstream, causing a reduction in their values. 

Studies done at Duke University Centre and the University of Texas have confirmed exercise to lower cholesterol through weight loss, enzyme stimulation, and an increase in the lipoprotein size.

Takeaway

The management of cholesterol is all about finding the right balance between good and bad cholesterol. Since your diet is an investment in your health, focus on getting more HDL and fewer LDL cholesterols.

In genetically predisposed individuals, diet, exercise, and lifestyle modifications may not be enough to control blood cholesterol levels. Thus, they may need medications to reduce cholesterol. 

The approach to maintaining good cholesterol levels is comprehensive. A healthier lifestyle is key, in addition to eating the right foods.

Additionally, it’s also helpful to quit harmful smoking and alcohol. This knowledge of good and bad cholesterol would aid you in making decisions regarding your health.