Your cholesterol levels count!

dietandnutrition_June25_BSince cholesterol is such a big health concern for so many women, it’s perhaps surprising that there is such a lack of understanding about it. Confusion reigns about what cholesterol is, what causes it and how to define so-called ‘good’ and ‘bad’ cholesterol, as well as how to lower levels. At Kaia our focus is not just on exercise but on diet and nutrition too and in creating wellbeing, not just an outwardly athletic physique. Being thin, for example, does not mean that you automatically have low cholesterol. However, without any symptoms, until the real damage is done it’s important to be informed about why your cholesterol levels count!

Most people have a vague notion that they should be keeping their cholesterol levels down and that they do this by eating healthily and not eating fatty foods, or cholesterol-rich foods. However, the link between diet and cholesterol levels might not be quite so, and in fact the latest research suggests that cholesterol is a far more complex health issue.

What is cholesterol?

You might be surprised to know that cholesterol is, in the main, produced by the liver and travels through the bloodstream to carry out important functions. Cholesterol is carried around to various cells in the body by low-density lipoproteins (LDLs) and brought back to the liver to be got rid of by high-density lipoproteins (HDLs). Along with these lipoproteins there are also fats called triglycerides.

Why do we need cholesterol?

Cholesterol is produced by the body because it does lots of good work such as helping create hormones and Vitamin D. It also helps build and maintain the outer coating of cells, or the plasma membrane. A third function is related to the acids that help the digestive system. In other words, cholesterol is pretty essential!

What cholesterol is tested?

Because of the different components of cholesterol modern-day tests look at the levels of LDLs, HDLs and triglycerides, as well as the total cholesterol level. A healthy level is a balanced level with total cholesterol less than 200 mg per deciliter of blood, with HDL levels over 60 mg/dL, LDL levels less than 100 mg/dL and triglycerides under 100 mg/dL.

What is good and bad cholesterol?

One reason that the different lipoproteins are tested individually is because LDL is considered to be ‘bad’ cholesterol in that high levels create greater health risks, while HDL, or ‘good’ cholesterol protects the heart, with higher levels actually being beneficial. Triglycerides are regarded as being detrimental to health, with research revealing a link between high levels and heart attacks and strokes.

How can I lower my cholesterol levels?

It was once believed that foods rich in cholesterol, such as egg yolks and prawns created high cholesterol levels. However, while diet has an important part to play, this view has changed in medical circles. Research has looked at the benefits of a Mediterranean diet which is high in fats from nuts and olive oils. It seems that the big dangers are processed foods and a diet lacking in fruit and vegetables. What needs to be acknowledged is that low-fat does not necessarily produce the best results when trying to lower cholesterol. Healthy eating is about balance and fresh produce.

Smoking and leading a sedentary lifestyle also impacts cholesterol levels so the best approach to lowering levels is to make positive lifestyle changes that you can sustain. The first step you might want to take though is to find out what your cholesterol levels are right now.

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