Cholesterol, as a whole, tends to be demonized in our culture. However, cholesterol is actually vitally important to our health. Let’s first take a look at why it is important, and then we can explore what it might mean if cholesterol levels in the body are high.
Cholesterol is essential for normal cell functioning. In fact, it is a fundamental element of all cell membranes in our bodies. We need cholesterol for myelin sheath coatings, which are fatty coatings around our nerves that speed up electrical impulses in our brain. Cholesterol also plays an important role in hormone pathways. In other words, lower is not always better in terms of total cholesterol levels in the body. In fact, low levels have been associated with anxiety, depression, and certain cancers. Undesirable side effects can occur with both low and high levels of cholesterol in the body. It’s a balance!
Taking a look now at high cholesterol levels, here are some of the potential root causes: lack of variety in the diet, smoking, a sedentary lifestyle, excessive alcohol consumption, and extreme stress. It is important to also note that genetics plays a role. The good news is, being predisposed to something doesn’t always mean it is inevitable. A balanced diet that includes a variety of fiber-filled, nutrient-dense foods can impact cholesterol levels in a positive way, as can regular movement and managing stress.
Another important thing to note is that dietary cholesterol has only a mild impact on blood cholesterol levels. Historically, eggs have been a topic of controversy, and more studies are underway. For now, it appears that eggs in moderation and as part of a nutritious and balanced diet are absolutely okay.
It has recently been shown that excessive intake of added sugars actually is more likely to increase VLDL and LDL (types of cholesterol) in the body. A relatively high intake of fruits, vegetables, legumes, whole grains, nuts, and seeds is associated with lower incidences of cardiovascular events without restricting fat intake. It seems that it isn’t the overall fat content of the diet, but the types of fats consumed that impact cholesterol levels. The standard American diet is much higher in omega-6 fats (found in various cooking oils and corn chips) than omega-3 fats, and this imbalance can lead to chronic lowgrade inflammation. We know that inflammation leads to chronic disease. Most Americans consume insufficient amounts of omega-3 fatty acids. Ways to boost omega-3 fats in the diet include: adding ground flaxseed to a smoothie, topping yogurt with hemp seeds, making overnight oats with chia seeds, adding walnuts to a salad, and choosing salmon over steak for dinner.
Instead of focusing on what to limit, try focusing on what to increase. It is recommended to get cholesterol levels checked at least every five years if over the age of 20.
For additional questions about dietary management of cholesterol levels, reach out to 901 Nutrition at firstname.lastname@example.org, or call 901.800.9526.
Kristi Edwards, co-founder and owner of 901 Nutrition LLC, is a licensed and registered dietitian in Memphis. She has several years of experience in both acute care and outpatient settings, and she is passionate about helping clients ditch dieting for good, through intuitive eating and the enjoyment of food. You can reach Kristi at 901.800.9526 or email@example.com. To learn more about 901 Nutrition or to subscribe to their free newsletter for monthly recipe books, visit 901nutrition.com. You can also follow 901 Nutrition on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and LinkedIn.