Cholesterol is a waxy, fat-like substance that is found in every cell in the body and travels through the bloodstream. The human body needs some cholesterol because it is involved in processes that are of great importance to our bodies, producing hormones, vitamin D and substances that help digest food.
Anyone can have high cholesterol and it can be caused by many different things, according to the British Heart Foundation. Some of the causes can be controlled such as lifestyle and some cannot, and as long as you pay attention to the things you can control, you will help reduce your risk, says the foundation.
Types of cholesterol
Low-density lipoprotein (LDL)
LDL cholesterol is made up of low-density lipoproteins, which include molecules that carry cholesterol and saturated fats that are difficult for the body to metabolise. This type of cholesterol is called harmful or bad cholesterol because it builds up on artery walls and narrows them. It also forms plaques that leak into the artery wall, resulting in atherosclerosis, high blood pressure and heart disease.
High-density lipoprotein (HDL)
Good cholesterol is the cholesterol associated with high-density transporter protein. This type includes unsaturated fats that are beneficial to the body, and the activity of this transporter is such that it reduces the levels of other types of cholesterol, including bad cholesterol and saturated fats, in the blood and keeps them within normal limits. and transfers them to the liver to be consumed or eliminated from the body. Therefore, good cholesterol reduces the risk of heart disease, improves the health of the circulatory system and prevents atherosclerosis.
Causes of high cholesterol
Cholesterol moves in the blood vessels by binding to certain proteins in the blood. This fusion between proteins and cholesterol is called lipoproteins in medical language. Factors that affect cholesterol can be classified as follows:
- Unhealthy eating habits, such as eating a lot of harmful fats, and one of these fats is saturated fats found in some meats, dairy products, chocolate, baked goods, fried and processed foods. There is another type, which is unsaturated fat, found in some fried and processed foods, and eating these fats contributes to raising harmful cholesterol.
- Lack of physical activity and sedentary lifestyles lower HDL.
- Smoking lowers good cholesterol, especially in women, and raises bad cholesterol.
- Genetic factors may prevent the body’s cells from effectively removing excess LDL cholesterol from the blood or cause the liver to produce excess cholesterol.
Symptoms of high cholesterol
The British Heart Foundation says that there are usually no typical signs that you have high cholesterol, so it is very important to manage it. It is a hidden risk factor that can occur without us knowing about it until it is too late. But among the things that cause high cholesterol and cannot be controlled:
- Having familial hypercholesterolaemia (FH).
- Kidney or liver disease.
Healthy foods to control cholesterol
In most cases we can prevent high blood cholesterol levels if we are careful, consistent, and have a proper diet and physical activity. Obviously, family background, especially if there is a high cholesterol family history, will also affect how well we deal with a high cholesterol situation, or whether a blood test shows an increase in cholesterol. It may be helpful to include the following healthy foods in your diet:
- Nuts: It may be strange that a food such as nuts, which are high in fat, can also help us to reduce bad LDL cholesterol levels. Their benefit is based on the quantities, recommending a daily minimum intake of no more than 40 gr.
- Olive oil: the use of olive oil as a substitute for other fats will also help reduce bad cholesterol levels (LDL) and improve good cholesterol levels (HDL). The reason for this is its high content of monounsaturated fats.
- Wholemeal cereals: Eating wholemeal cereals, especially oats, brown rice, wholemeal pasta or bread, is also recommended to help keep cholesterol levels healthy.
- Fruits and vegetables: green leafy vegetables are quite healthy for reducing cholesterol levels. Some of the most recommended are spinach and broccoli. There are many examples of fruit, such as blueberries, due to their compound called pterostilbene, a natural antioxidant. Strawberries, grapes, plums and oranges would also be among the fruits to be included in our diet to help reduce cholesterol.
- Fish and omega-3 fatty acids: it is recommended to increase fish intake as compared to meat and include it at least twice a week. It is also recommended to cook it, preferably roasted or baked. And blue fish such as tuna, sardines or anchovies are recommended. Other sources of omega 3 other than fish would be flaxseed, nuts or canola oil.
In summary, cholesterol should not be seen in a negative light, as it is an important part of our organism, however, we should be aware that a good diet, physical exercise and keeping an eye on certain foods we eat is necessary, as it makes the difference between cholesterol being an ally of our health, or an enemy causing cardiovascular problems.