Understanding what you’re eating and what your body really needs is an important part of making healthy food choices. When it comes to things like carbohydrates, proteins, and fats, everyone knows that these are important components of a balanced diet. The problem comes when too much of these, or the wrong kinds, are taken in. There is a lot of talk about good and bad cholesterol, so this article breaks down what these are and how you can get enough of the healthy kind.
What is Cholesterol?
Before looking into the good and bad kinds, let’s look at cholesterol in general. Cholesterol is a fatty substance that is classed as a sterol compound. It is an essential part of the body’s makeup and is found in the lining of most types of cells in the body. It also finds its use as a precursor to hormones including estrogen and bile for digestion. A steady source of this important lipid is needed, and there are two ways we find it. We take in cholesterol from many foods that we eat. Another way we get cholesterol is through its manufacture in all the cells. The liver plays an important role in balancing the cholesterol level in the body.
The Good Versus the Bad
The two different types of cholesterol are often referred to as good or bad cholesterol. Cholesterol in the blood travels around in lipoproteins. These are structures containing both protein and other fats or lipids. Depending on what the lipoproteins are composed of, this gives rise to the two cholesterol types.
The more protein a lipoprotein has compared to lipids, the higher the density. In high-density lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol, there are more proteins than fats in the lipoproteins. This is the good kind of cholesterol.
On the other hand, low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol is when the lipoprotein has more fat than protein. This is the more abundant type of cholesterol in the blood and is referred to as the bad cholesterol. A person with too much LDL cholesterol in their bloodstream develops a condition called hypercholesterolaemia or high cholesterol. The excess can find its way into various arteries in the body including those in the heart, in the brain, and those towards to legs. These cholesterol deposits cause a significant health risk because they constrict the blood vessels and therefore increase the blood pressure. Other long-term risks from these fatty deposits include blood clots, heart attacks, strokes, and other organ malfunctions. A person with higher levels of HDL cholesterol has a reduced chance of developing heart disease.
Sources of Cholesterol and How You Can Get Enough
Having seen that our cholesterol level is a major health issue, we need to make sure we are getting enough of the good kind and reducing the bad kind we ingest. If you have already developed high LDL cholesterol levels, your doctor can recommend an appropriate course of action. This is often in the form of cholesterol-reducing medication. Lifestyle changes are also important to get back on the right track.
Cholesterol is a needed compound in the body, and you can find it in meat, dairy products, and plant oils. Some of the foods with the highest amount of cholesterol include pork, fatty beef, whole milk and related products, and saturated vegetable oils. These must all be taken in moderation. The good kind of cholesterol can be found in healthy oils such as olive oil, whole grains, beans and other legumes, and fatty fish to name a few. There are also a number of diets that can be used to lower your cholesterol levels and get more of the good kind. One of these includes a Mediterranean-styled diet.