Cholesterol – Good, Bad and Everything In Between [EXPERT GUIDE]
Cholesterol is one of those topics that has been so confused and manipulated over the past couple of years.
With the rise of new diets like ketogenic, paleo and vegan diets – many people have wondered what is healthiest for them, especially when it comes to longevity.
In the scope of our analysis, we have found so much conflicting opinions online. Fortunately, we turned to science and research to help us understand how much cholesterol we should be consuming and what else we should be doing in order to ensure we have a complete nutrient profile.
Before we get into the details of cholesterol it is important to understand how the body and nutrient transport works.
On a very simple level, all the nutrients and energy you transport throughout the body will pass through the arteries. Think of these arteries as massive pipes – if the pipe has any buildup this could clog the passage of fuel throughout the system.
This is the main idea to consider with a high level of cholesterol in your diet. Although some cholesterol is good for you, and in most cases can be an effective way to maintain health, when dietary cholesterol raises too high you will begin to see that your body can no longer handle the stress, blood pressure will rise and as a result – nutrient transport will suffer.
What is Cholesterol?
Cholesterol is, on the most basic level a building block of cell membranes. Without cholesterol, your body will not be able to effectively maintain strength and recovery. In fact, most soft tissue, including muscle will contain some cholesterol.
This means cholesterol is not bad.
It is, however, something we need to keep a keen eye on and ensure that we consume the right amount. There have been years of clinical research that shows a diet that contains an excess of cholesterol is linked to coronary heart disease and other chronic heart issues.
The most important factor to remember with cholesterol is that there is no problem consuming cholesterol, and knowing that your body already creates a minimal amount is crucial – but you need to have a way to recycle the bad cholesterol and maintain healthy blood flow and nutrient transport.
When we say bad cholesterol we are talking about cholesterol that builds up on the inside of arterial walls, causing a blockage and can even lead to chronic heart diseases – but how do you know what cholesterol is good and which is bad?
HDL vs. LDL
These are the two main cholesterol forms. Cholesterol comes in either a high-density lipoprotein or a low-density lipoprotein.
Understand that both are important to your diet and lifestyle, but one can be more effective than another at recycling the cholesterol and keeping your heart healthy.
The name says it all – these types of protein-bound cholesterols that are responsible for the recycling of cholesterol in the body. HDL will take cholesterol and move the plaque and buildup away from the heart.
For this reason, many people will consider HDL’s to be the healthier form of dietary cholesterol.
Foods that contain a high amount of HDL are vegetable oils, nuts, seeds, beans and some fish. Typically meat products that are high in fat will contain very little HDL which is one of the main reasons to keep your meat consumption low when you are looking at a healthy heart.
These are generally regarded as the bad guys for the sole reason that they are not as effective at transporting plaque and other cholesterol bound buildups away from the heart.
LDL is actually a type of cholesterol that the body will produce and send to the arteries and heart to heal or “patch up” areas where the arteries are weak and unstable.
The problem does not arise when your body creates it (or you have a little in your diet) but when the body is provided with an excess of LDL ongoing for hearts – you will start to see a progressive buildup of plaque that can lead to coronary heart disease and even atherosclerosis.
Common foods that contain high amounts of LDL are butter, margarine, milk products, meats.
Typically these would be foods that are recommended to consume in very low amounts (based on your countries dietary recommendations) but the western world has taken it upon themselves to consume these in an excess.
Remember, LDL is not necessarily bad. It the excessive consumption of these foods ongoing for years that can lead to chronic health conditions.
Use moderation when consuming products that contain high levels of LDL cholesterol – and ensure that your diet has plenty of foods containing HDL sources to recycle this plaque buildup.
How To Better Your Health
Bringing this all back to our original point on which foods would be best for those who are looking for longevity, it is important to understand that you will never go wrong with a diet that contains a high amount of plant foods.
Everyone knows that fruit and vegetables are good for them – keep it simple and eat more.
Looking for a great source of protein but don’t want to consume high amounts of LDL, try eating beans, nuts and other legumes rather than a big steak. Sure you might not have the same taste, but trust us, your heart will thank you in the long run.
The biggest asset that you can bring into your diet is to consume more fibrous foods. This means eating more fruit, vegetables (especially starchy ones) and consuming more lean proteins from beans, seeds, nuts and others. The rationale for eating a high fibre diet is to lower your risk of heart disease and increase your metabolism.
The research will even show that a diet containing around 30-40g of fibre a day can lower inflammation and reduce the risk of chronic diseases. Not to bad for eating some fruit, right?
Nutrition and diet have always been simple – just stick to the foods that you know are good for you.
Chances are if you are reading a box of food at the store and can’t pronounce half the words – you probably shouldn’t be eating it.
Try your best to keep the majority of your diet to foods that contain a high amount of plant foods and other fibre rich sources of nutrients.
Understand that cholesterol isn’t bad – but you should do what you can to eat the foods that will promote more HDL consumption and limit an excess of LDL production and buildup.
Gabriello is a writer and strength expert best known for his science-based and practical approach to Exercise Physiology, Nutrition and Strength. After serving in a directors position for The Canadian Society for Exercise Physiology Gabriello moved towards writing to help more people understand the importance of living a healthy life. Gabriello’s writings have been published in several languages on some of the largest health and fitness websites helping people learn, grow and understand the complex components of optimizing human performance in a simplistic way.
Gabriello also takes on specialized, high-performance athletes who are in need of strength, mobility and conditioning programming to optimize their fitness through his Earned Fitness program.
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