Is vital for our cells and we need it in our lives. Wait, what??? 'Surely this can’t be right' you might say. We have been told that cholesterol is bad, statins are good, fats create cholesterol, and we basically have to do whatever it takes to remove it from our arteries. Let’s take it bit by bit...
What is cholesterol? According to the NHS, it is a fatty substance known as a lipid which is mainly made by the liver and it is vital for the normal functioning of the body.
Why is it vital? Because:
- our bodies make steroid hormones (oestrogen, progesterone, testosterone and adrenal corticosteroid hormones) from cholesterol.
- it is used to make vitamin D (which technically is a hormone).
- it is a precursor for the synthesis of bile acids (which aid lipid digestion).
- it is required to make the cells' membranes.
I’m pretty sure that if you know someone who is trying to keep their cholesterol levels low, you might have heard them saying they cut on eggs, meat, fish as these are major dietary sources of cholesterol. Unless these foods are fried and/or processed (or one has an intolerance or allergy for them) then we don’t need to avoid them. Our bodies will make cholesterol even if we eat a cholesterol free diet, so keep on eating those eggs, they are a highly nutritious food. No wonder why, with this fat free phobia, there are so many people with health issues from hormonal problems to poor brain health.
Why can cholesterol be bad?
There are two types of cholesterol: high-density lipoprotein (HDL), also referred to as good cholesterol, and low-density lipoprotein (LDL), also referred to as bad cholesterol.
To confuse you a bit I will tell you that we actually need some LDL cholesterol in our bodies. A very low LDL cholesterol is associated with an increased risk of Parkinson’s Disease and dementia.
The real problem is the oxidation of LDL cholesterol as it can trigger a cascade of immune responses, and oxidised cholesterol gets deposited in the arteries forming arteriosclerotic plaques which can trigger inflammation. Besides being a factor for cardiovascular diseases, the build-up of oxidised cholesterol has toxic effects on central nervous system. A study designed to investigate the effects of dietary cholesterol and oxidised cholesterol on cognitive function showed that the high dietary intake of the oxidised cholesterol might impair the memory and decline the coenzyme Q10 content of the brain tissue.
Prof Kummerov, a nutrition scientist who is the author of "Cholesterol Won't Kill You, But Trans Fats Could" wrote in a review that:
"Oxidised lipids contribute to heart disease both by increasing deposition of calcium on the arterial wall, a major hallmark of atherosclerosis, and by interrupting blood flow, a major contributor to heart attack and sudden death."
How can oxidised cholesterol build up in our bloodstream?
- By eating processed foods such as fast foods, commercially fried (think fries and fried chicken) and baked foods.
- Through cigarette smoking.
- Sugar - when sugar binds to the protein LDL (a process called glycation), it makes it stickier and likely to attach to artery walls, and this can lead to plaque formation. So, the less sugar in our blood, the less of this process happens.
What may help keep our cholesterol levels in an ideal range?
- Removing all those processed foods high in trans fats and sugar from our diet. When you go food shopping next, try to avoid buying foods such as pizza, ice-cream, salad dressings, ketchup, fruit yogurt, cakes, fizzy drinks, sugary breakfast cereals, spreads (such as margarine).
- Increasing our HDL cholesterol may help remove oxidised cholesterol from arteries. Foods high in fibre (beans, lentils, jumbo oats, rye, millet, fruit, vegetables) nuts, seeds, olive oil, avocado, oily fish can help increase our HDL levels.
- Including lots of green leafy vegetables in our meals. Add them to your smoothies, omelettes, homemade stir-fries, salads.
- Quitting smoking
- Vitamin C is needed for the conversion of cholesterol to bile acids so try to include vitamin C rich foods in the diet such as dark-coloured berries, kiwi, strawberries, green peppers.
I hope you have a better understanding of this topic but if you have any questions, send me a message and I'll get back to you.
Be happy and be healthy! x