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Cholesterol is essential for many specific body functions (it’s a major component of cell membranes, it’s a precursor to Vitamin D absorption and sterol based hormone production, and it is necessary for the production of bile by the liver), and we need it. However, it’s something that our bodies can make from both phospholipids and triglycerides (other forms of fat), so it’s not an essential component of our diet.
There are several different types of cholesterol, but the markers typically used for assessing overall cholesterol are High Density Lipoproteins (HDL) and Low Density Lipoproteins (LDL). Both play important roles in the body – HDL collects cholesterol and plaque from cells for either recycling in the liver or removal through excretion by the kidneys. HDL protects against arthereosclorosis, whereas high levels of LDL are precursors to arthereosclorosis and heart disease. LDL in the right amount is useful to the body as it is used in cell synthesis, but heightened LDL is not only dangerous in itself, but also contributes to a heightened overall total cholesterol score. HDL is impacted by diet and exercise, whereas LDL is correlated solely to diet. To reduce levels of LDL, you have to make changes to the diet.
Cholesterol is found only in animal products. The current dietary recommendations are not to consume more than 300mg of cholesterol a day. This goes in line with the consumption of no more than 10% of caloric intake coming from saturated fats, and total fat intake making up between 20% – 35% of the daily diet.
How Do I Reduce My Cholesterol Intake?
Ways to reduce cholesterol intake are to reduce intake of animal products – substitute butter with oil based spreads, replace milk with the low fat variety, choose lean meat cuts, and cut the fat off the meat before cooking. Reducing the daily consumption of dairy products will also reduce LDL levels, as these contain animal fats. You can also increase your dietary sources of non-animal fat, so getting most of the daily dietary fat from sources such as fish (especially cold water), nuts (not peanuts or peanut butter), oils, seeds and avocados. Fibre will also bind with cholesterol and remove it from the body, as the body digests very little fibre – oats for breakfast, green leafy vegetables, fruit, whole grains.
Have a think about your sources of cholesterol, and ways to remove or reduce the consumption of these products. Once you have identified areas to make a difference, try it for a month or two, and then re-test to check your LDL levels.
The other point is, if you have high LDL cholesterol, its likely that those you eat with regularly (i.e. family members), also have high LDL cholesterol. Making small changes to your diet will not only benefit you, but also potentially those you love the most.