Understanding Cholesterol

Understanding Cholesterol | Dr. Ali Ghahary

Cholesterol is made by your liver and is a type of fat that is found in your blood. We also get cholesterol from some of the foods we eat, such as high-fat foods, which can lead to health problems – something we’ll talk about more. As we age, it’s important to have your cholesterol levels checked regularly – though trying to interpret what your cholesterol numbers mean can sometimes be confusing, which is why it’s important to know about terms like LDL and HDL, as well as which foods are good and which are bad when it comes to ensuring your cholesterol levels are where they need to be at so that you’re as healthy as possible.

As mentioned, there are two types of cholesterol: LDL and HDL. LDL, which is abbreviated for low density-lipoprotein, is known as the “bad” cholesterol as it can build up on the walls of your arteries which ultimately increases your risk of developing heart disease, which also increases your risk of things like heart attacks. If you’re someone with a pre-existing condition like heart disease or blood vessel disease, then it’s ideal for you to have an LDL level that is less than 70, while other high-risk individuals (such as those with various risk factors for heart disease, or those who’ve been diagnosed with other medical conditions like diabetes) is to have an LDL level of less than 100. HDL, abbreviated for high-density lipoprotein, is known as the “good” cholesterol and protects against heart disease by removing the “bad” cholesterol from your blood. HDL levels should always be higher, with an optimal level being around 60; while an HDL reading of less than 40 is also considered to be a major risk factor for heart disease.

The number one patients have when it comes to improving their cholesterol levels is, “What can I do?” – and the answer is simple: Live a healthier lifestyle. Of course there are things like age, gender, and genes that can all play a role in our cholesterol levels changing, and these are things that we cannot alter; however, things like diet, weight and physical activity level also all play a major role in keeping your cholesterol levels from being healthy or skyrocketing to levels that are considered unhealthy. By getting regular exercise (at least 30 minutes each day) and staying at a healthy weight, you will not only lower your triglyceride levels but also raise your HDL level. When it comes to diet, foods that are high in saturated and trans fats play the biggest culprit in having unhealthy cholesterol levels, so try to decrease the amount of these fats from your diet.

Foods that should typically be avoided if you’re wanting to improve your cholesterol include things like red meat (such as fatty beef, sausage or bacon), organ meats (such as liver or kidney), pork, lamb, poultry with skin, certain dairy products (especially those made from whole or reduced-fat milk), packaged foods (such as cookies), desserts (such as cakes, donuts and pastries), potato chips, crackers, buttered popcorn, as well as saturated vegetable oils (such as palm oil, palm kernel oil, and coconut oil) and anything containing partially hydrogenated or hydrogenated vegetable oils.

As for the foods you should include more of in order to improve your cholesterol, these include foods that are high in fibre (such as nuts, seeds, legumes, and fish like salmon, sardines and tuna.) You can also cook with and eat foods that contain nontropical natural vegetable oils (such as olive oil, canola oil, avocado oil, and safflower oil.) You should change your cooking methods; for example, use a rack to drain off any excess fat with roasting, baking and broiling meats and/or poultry, and opt for broiling your foods rather than grilling or pan-frying them. You should also remove skin from poultry and cut off any visible fat from meat, in addition to avoiding basting meat with fat drippings.

For more information on the lifestyle changes you can make to improve your cholesterol levels, visit HealthLink BC.