Cholesterol: a wax consistency, fat-like substance found in all cells in the body
Where does it come from? some cholesterol is made in your body by your liver, other sources of cholesterol come from the food you eat. The cholesterol that comes from food is referred to as dietary cholesterol.
Cholesterol cannot dissolve in the blood so it is carried around in the body by lipoproteins (these small packages are made up of fat on the inside and protein on the outside, hence the name lipo-protein).
There are two main types of lipoproteins:
- High Density Lipoprotein: labeled as the healthy cholesterol because their job is to carry extra and un-needed cholesterol from the artery and transport it to the liver to be re-used or broken down and removed from the blood stream altogether.
- Low Density Lipoprotein: labeled as lousy cholesterol because this cholesterol remains in the artery and can form plagues that lead to heart disease. We want minimal amounts of this cholesterol in our body. Excess plague build up leads to atherosclerosis which can lead to heart attack and stroke
The Benefits of Cholesterol:
Cholesterol is essential for human life, it has many roles that include being a component of the cell membrane, it contributes to the structural makeup of the membrane as well as modulates its fluidity. Cholesterol is a precursor molecule in the synthesis of Vitamin D, steroid hormones, and sex hormones. Also, cholesterol is part of bile salt which aids in digestion and absorption in fat-soluble vitamins A, D, E, and K. 1
What Foods Contain Cholesterol?
- Animal Products – meat, poultry, seafood, eggs, and dairy products
- Cholesterol is especially high in egg yolks and organ meats like liver and kidney Vegetable products DO NOT contain cholesterol
Desirable Cholesterol Levels:
- Total cholesterol: Desirable blood levels for total cholesterol are below 200 mg/dL. Levels between 200 and 239 are considered “borderline.” Levels above 240 are considered “high.”
- LDL cholesterol: Optimal LDL levels are less than 100 mg/dL. Near-optimal levels are between 100 and 129. Levels between 130 and 159 are considered “borderline;” levels between 160 and 189 are considered “high;” and levels of 190 and above are considered “very high.”
- HDL cholesterol: In general, the higher the HDL cholesterol levels the better. HDL levels below 41 mg/dL are considered too low.2
What Causes your Cholesterol Levels to Rise? High cholesterol is a hereditary disease but nutrition intake can also affect these lab values. Consuming saturated fat, trans fat, and cholesterol in your diet can increase your cholesterol levels.
- Saturated Fat: Naturally present in animal foods and whole milk dairy products as well as tropical oils like coconut oil, palm oil, palm kernel oil, and cocoa butter
Here is a blurb about coconut oil from Today’s Dietitian Magazine for those of you who have heard the consumption of coconut oil being advertised as beneficial. The research still doesn’t show conclusive evidence on this. “Despite the popularity of coconut oil, this highly saturated oil is 44% lauric acid and 16% myristic acid, which are both hypercholesterolemic. We do know that coconut oil raises LDL cholesterol, but it raises HDL cholesterol even more. Does that make a difference? We don’t know,” says Dariush Mozaffarian, MD, DrPH, dean of the Friedman School of Nutrition Science & Policy at Tufts University. “There’s no strong data or evidence that coconut oil is better or worse for you than any other source of saturated fat,” he explains. “Most of the claims being made for coconut oil are based on research using medium chain triglycerides that are eight and 10 carbon chains in length, which are not the predominant fatty acids in coconut oil,” Vannice says. “Some of the saturated fats in coconut oil may be metabolized differently and lead to less fat production, but the impact of replacing lard with coconut oil is unknown. In fact, coconut oil has much more saturated fat than both lard and beef tallow,” she adds. She also cautions that many of the coconut oil products are highly processed and refined. If consumers choose to consume coconut oil, she says moderation is key, and using the less processed (virgin) oils is a better choice, as the fatty acids will be closer to their original form, and the oil will contain more phytonutrients.”4
- Trans Fat: not present naturally in foods, this is a man-made fat and is also known as a hydrogenated fat – it acts like a saturated fat in the body to increase LDL cholesterol and increase risk for heart disease. Trans fat has been shown to increase total cholesterol and decrease the level of HDL in your body. Trans fat is found in vegetable shortening, some margarines, crackers, cookies, and snack foods. Also, trans fat is found in foods labeled containing “partially hydrogenated oils.”
Recommended Daily Allowances:
- <30% of calories from fat with <10% coming from saturated fat
- <300mg Cholesterol/day
Increase These Nutrients to Add in Decreasing Cholesterol: Choose more unsaturated fats like monounsaturated fat and polyunsaturated fats which contain Omega-3’s and Omega-6’s which are shown to be beneficial to heart health.
- Monounsaturated fats: olive oil, canola oil, peanut oils, and avocado
- Polyunsaturated fats: soybean oil, corn oil, safflower oil, sesame oil, sunflower oils, seeds, and nuts.
- Omega-3’s: flax seed oil, hemp oil, pumpkin seeds, walnuts, oily cold-water fish (tuna, salmon, mackerel).
- Omega-6’s: whole grains, cereals, and most plant based oil
Keep your heart healthy everyone!
-Cinthia Scott, RD, LD, CNSC
Huff T, Jialal II. Physiology, Cholesterol. [Updated 2017 Nov 14]. In: StatPearls [Internet]. Treasure Island (FL): StatPearls Publishing; 2017 Jun-. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK470561/
Third report of the National Cholesterol Education Program (NCEP) Expert Panel on detection, evaluation, and treatment of high blood cholesterol in adults (Adult Treatment Panel III). Circulation 2002; 106:3143.
Greenland P, Alpert JS, Beller GA, et al. 2010 ACCF/AHA guideline for assessment of cardiovascular risk in asymptomatic adults: a report of the American College of Cardiology Foundation/American Heart Association Task Force on Practice Guidelines. J Am Coll Cardiol 2010; 56:e50.