Cholesterol is something which most people regard as a “villain” of health. All thanks to the increasing rate of heart disease and other related complications. It’s true that a diet consistently high in cholesterol and saturated fats takes a person on the path of heart ailments, but it’s also true that if one were to totally shun cholesterol, one would age very fast as the cell replacement would be hampered, the skin would become loose and premature wrinkles would appear. Does that surprise you? Oh yes it will! So, cholesterol is bad…and cholesterol is good as well. While too much cholesterol can be harmful, just the right amount of it does a lot of important work in the body.
Majority of the total body cholesterol is synthesized in the liver and some of it is obtained from foods. Among the food sources, cholesterol comes only from animal foods. Foods that contain saturated fats (dairy products, hydrogenated vegetable oils, egg yolk, red meat, coconut, cashews, etc.) are the indirect sources of cholesterol as saturated fat is converted into cholesterol when it enters the body.
There are various functions of Cholesterol which are indispensible to the body:
- Cholesterol plays a very important role in both the creation and maintenance of human cell membrane
- It helps produce bile acids which aids in digestion and vitamin absorption.
- It aids in the synthesis of Vitamin D
- It plays a role in producing hormones such as oestrogen in women and testosterone in men.
Let’s understand that all cholesterol isn’t the same. There’s good cholesterol called HDL (high density lipoprotein) and bad cholesterol called LDL (Low density Lipoprotein).
HDL cholesterol sweeps away the extra cholesterol from cells and tissues and takes it to liver where it is broken down and passed from the body. A healthy range of HDL cholesterol is known to protect against heart diseases, while low levels have been shown to increase the risk of it.
Whereas LDL cholesterol, the “bad man”, contributes to plaque formation, a thick, hard deposit that can clog arteries making them less flexible which sets the process of heart disease in motion.
In order to prevent heart disease, it is very important to maintain the good and bad cholesterols in their healthy range. LDL Cholesterol should always be under 130 mg/dl and HDL should be above 60 mg/dl, and the total cholesterol ought to be within 200 mg/dl.
How do we maintain these healthy levels? In terms of diet, the high-fat diets that raise LDL also raise HDL, while low-fat diets lower both. However, there are certain foods which lower the LDL and up the HDL levels. These are the foods rich in omega 3. Omega 3 is a miraculous nutrient found in walnuts, flaxseeds, flaxseed oil, fish, fish oil, chia seeds, etc. which helps maintain the healthy ratio of HDL:LDL. Apart from diet, of course exercise, genetics other lifestyle factors also play a role in maintaining the levels. People who exercise, don’t smoke and maintain a healthy weight tend to have higher levels of HDL.
Thus, all that we need to make sure is to eat wisely, exercise regularly and thereby maintain the healthy lipid levels and secure your heart!