Cholesterol, which is a waxy, fat-like substance, can be found in all of the cells in our body. It is used to make hormones, vitamin D and bile acids that are essential for digestion.
Your body makes all the cholesterol it needs, but all the processed and high fatty foods that we eat results in our bodies having too much cholesterol. However, that doesn’t mean that all cholesterol is bad. Defining cholesterol as “good” or “bad” depends on the body’s lipoproteins (proteins which carry cholesterol through the body). “Good” and “bad” cholesterol both represent the two types of lipoproteins: low-density and high-density lipoproteins.
Low-density Lipoproteins (LDL)
Known as “bad cholesterol”, LDL transport the cholesterol throughout the body to help protect and repair the cell walls, help produce hormones and bile acids. When there are too many LDL in the blood, it tends to get caught up on the inner lining of our arteries. This forms plaques and is a major cause of stroke and coronary heart disease, hence “bad cholesterol.”
High-density Lipoproteins (HDL)
This is what we know as “good” cholesterol. HDL act like trash workers and collect all of the extra cholesterol that is hanging out in the blood stream. It then takes the extra cholesterol back to the liver for secretion before it attaches itself to the lining of the blood vessels.
Decreasing your Bad Cholesterol and Increasing Good Cholesterol
- Eat 5-10 grams or more of foods high in soluble fiber, such as oatmeal, kidney beans, apples, pears, prunes and barley. These foods help reduce your LDL.
- Consume small amounts (1.5 ounces) of foods rich in monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fatty acids, such as walnuts, almonds, peanuts, pecans and pistachios. Just make sure they aren’t salted or covered in sugar.
- For those who smoke, smoking inhibits the production of HDL in your body, so try to find a program that can help you quit.
- Participate in 60 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic exercise a week to raise your HDL.
- Cut back on sugar and refined carbohydrates to raise your HDL levels.
- Increase your consumption of antioxidant-rich foods, such as berries, avocado, nuts, kale, beets, spinach and dark chocolate. This will boost your HDL levels as well.
While all these healthy changes can make a huge difference in improving your cholesterol, sometimes they aren’t enough. Be sure to talk to your doctor about medication that can help to move your numbers in the right direction, your body will thank you.
Submitted by: Anna Treague, RN, Burnett County Public Health
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