Cholesterol has been in the spotlight for many years. Blood cholesterol levels remain a reference to measure the risk of suffering from cardiovascular diseases. In fact, until not long ago, it was recommended to restrict the consumption of foods that contain it, to avoid increasing these levels (in fact, this recommendation can still be heard).
But is it really as bad as it has been painted? In this post, we will tell you all the essentials about cholesterol, what the latest evidence says about it and what the recommendations are. Let's go there.
What is cholesterol?
Cholesterol is a molecule of essential fat composition for our body. It servesfundamentally for the formation of the membranes of all our cells, as a "raw material" for the synthesis of sexual and adrenal hormones, and it is also a precursor of bile acids, which are substances that are part of bile and that facilitate the digestion of food.
To maintain optimal levels, apart from obtaining it through food, through foods of animal origin (eggs and meat), our body is capable of synthesizing it. In this way, the amount necessary to perform the basic functions is guaranteed.
Where is the problem?
The problem occurs when we have excess cholesterol, specifically in blood, which is associated with the development of the dreaded atheroma plaque (plug in the arteries), which can end up causing cardiovascular disease.
Thus, what was thought at the time is that if our body synthesizes the amount of cholesterol it needs, and we add high amounts from the diet, they add up, and end up causing a harmful excess.
This type of thinking is logical but uncertain. According to the latest scientific evidence, in most people, cholesterol ingested from food has little to do with blood cholesterol levels. In other words, our body regulates itself, the more cholesterol ingested, the less it synthesizes.
So, are foods high in cholesterol healthy?
It depends. What is true is that you cannot judge a food, only by its amount of cholesterol. For example, eggs and shellfish are foods high in cholesterol, and that can be part of a balanced diet.
What Foods Increase Cholesterol Levels?
Dietary cholesterol, as we have mentioned, hardly affects the increase in blood cholesterol. But there is a close relationship between the type of diet that is carried out and those levels.
The foods that favor its increase are those rich in certain saturated fat, trans fat, and sugar. As is the case with fatty or processed meats, and foods made industrially with vegetable fats, like French fries, pastries, pizzas, margarines, muffins ... Which are also usually rich in added sugars.
Blood cholesterol levels, Lipoproteins
At this point, it's time to get a little more technical, to talk about another interesting fact, where the latest evidence also breaks the standards that have been established so far.
Lipoproteins are the molecules responsible for transporting cholesterol through the blood. Another name that they also receive, and that surely sounds more familiar to you, is: "Good cholesterol ”or HDL, whose job is to collect excess cholesterol from the blood and take it to the liver to eliminate it, y "Bad cholesterol ”or LDL, which is responsible for transporting cholesterol from the liver to the arteries.
Therefore, apparently the higher the amount of LDL (bad) cholesterol, there may be a greater chance that atheroma plaque (plug in the arteries) will form.
Currently, to find out the amount of LDL, blood tests are used, which measure the amount of cholesterol within these molecules, starting at 130 mg / dl the limit for the risk to begin, and being considered high and therefore a risk factor, starting at 160 mg / dl .
Well, the latest evidence says that it has little to do with amount of cholesterol transported by these molecules, and which influences much more, the size of these molecules. The larger ones being the ones with the lowest risk, and the smaller ones having the highest risk. And this fundamentally depends on our genetics, something that we cannot control.
How can I lower my cholesterol?
What these studies also show, and is the key point of the recommendation, is that HDL cholesterol levels (the good one), they do influence prevention of these diseases.
And guess what… HDL cholesterol levels are kept in their optimal state by following healthy lifestyle habits:
- To eat a balanced diet, avoiding or moderating the consumption of foods such as fatty or processed meats, rich in trans fats and sugars, and increasing the consumption of foods such as fruits, vegetables, whole grains, legumes, fish, extra virgin olive oil, nuts ... which among many other benefits, provide us with antioxidants and unsaturated fats, with a protective factor against this type of disease.
- Maintain a healthy weight and exercise regularly, it favors the increase of HDL cholesterol levels. The ideal is to do about 30 minutes a day, at your pace and level, but the important thing is to do it and take it as a habit.
- Cigarettes and alcohol. Both cigarettes (smoking, and exposure to tobacco) and alcohol can reduce HDL levels, therefore it is recommended to avoid them or try to reduce their consumption.
- Stress and rest. Stress and lack of rest are also factors that favor the development of cardiovascular diseases.
So you already know, not all foods high in cholesterol are harmful, and as in almost everything, the key to being healthy is to maintain a set of healthy habits over time.
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Image credits: Victoria Eugenia Hospital