Hypertension, heart attack or stroke or other cardiovascular disease, we blame cholesterol right away. But we need cholesterol in order to live. A fat-like, waxy substance, cholesterol is needed by all living organisms for normal body functioning. It maintains the integrity and fluidity of cell walls. Out of cholesterol, the body forms important substances including steroid hormones, bile acids and vitamin D. It also helps in nerve transmission.
The cholesterol in the body can come from two sources – from its own production or from foods of animal origin each time we consume them. In the body, the liver produce most of the cholesterol. Even without dietary intake, the body has to produce cholesterol. Limiting cholesterol-rich foods will limit outside source. Plant foods have no cholesterol but contain a cholesterol-like substance called phytosterol which is a better choice for health.
Up to a certain amount, cholesterol is healthy. Excess cholesterol however can combine with other substances to form plaque which is deposited in blood vessel particularly arteries eventually reducing blood vessel lumen and elasticity, hampers blood flow causing hypertension, heart attack or stroke. Note however that there can be many more risk factors for cardiovascular diseases.
Several foods are rich in cholesterol. Experts recommend limiting or even avoiding foods that are high in cholesterol which are also high in saturated fat which is another risk factor to cardiovascular diseases. These include full fat dairy foods such as milk, cheese, yogurt, cream; animal fats such as butter, margarine and spreads from animal dripping; fatty meat and processed meat products. Intake of cholesterol-rich but low in saturated fats like lean meat, eggs, shellfish, kidney, prawns, shrimps, crabs, lobster should be moderate like 3x a week for eggs and only one serving of liver per week. Think of nutrients derived from these foods so it may not also be wise to totally avoid.
Lowering body cholesterol levels does not differ much from general guidelines for good health – attaining a healthy body weight, calorie control, being physically active or doing exercises 3-4 times a week for 30 minutes each day of moderate intensity, consuming more wholegrains, fruits and vegetables, limiting fatty, sugary and salty foods, cooking food with less or no fat, no saturated fat as much as possible. Not smoking nor drinking alcoholic beverages or drink in moderation.
Have regular check up and go for cholesterol screening. Higher-than-normal total cholesterol, LDL or bad cholesterol and triglycerides and lower-than-normal HDL or good cholesterol can increase risk to diseases of the heart and blood vessels. Healthy lifestyle which includes proper nutrition and being physically active, is emphasized at all times. Caution though that there are many other risk factors that have to be considered prior to medication. See your doctor.