Cholesterol often gets a bad rap, so it can be surprising to learn that it’s actually essential when it comes to our health. In fact, our body even produces it naturally itself.
Whilst cholesterol isn’t all bad, it’s also not all good – it’s all about striking the right balance. So, with this in mind, let’s take a look at the role cholesterol plays in our day-to-day health and what you can do to ensure your levels are balanced.
What is cholesterol?
Cholesterol is a substance that’s created naturally by your liver. We get cholesterol from a number of sources including a variety of foods. But it can’t be produced by plants, so you’ll only find it in animal foods like meat and dairy.
How is cholesterol used in the body?
In the human body, cholesterol is something that plays some vital roles:
- Integral to cell growth and reproduction
- Produces bile in the liver
- Aids in the production of sex hormones
These are all necessary functions that all depend on your body having enough cholesterol. But as with everything – too much of a good thing isn’t good at all…
HDL vs LDL: Cholesterol levels explained
LDL and HDL are both terms that go hand-in-hand when talking about cholesterol. Both are lipoproteins – that’s compounds made of fat and protein – that transport cholesterol around the body. Your HDL and LDL levels make up your lipid profile which in turn paints a picture of your overall health. But what do they each mean?
- LDL stands for low-density lipoprotein and it refers to ‘bad’ cholesterol as it deposits it in the arteries.
- Keep your LDL numbers below 100 milligrams per deciliter (mg/dL).
Too much LDL can cause hardening of the arteries, as plaque builds up on the walls of your arteries. That can narrow your blood vessels and therefore make it harder for your body to pump oxygen-rich blood throughout your body. It can lead to blood clots which may block blood-flow and cause a heart attack or stroke.
- HDL refers to high-density lipoprotein, which is ‘good’ cholesterol as it deposits it in the liver where it’s then expelled from the body.
- HDL levels over 60 mg/dL are considered protective, whereas under 40 mg/dL may pose a risk of heart disease.
The right amount of HDL in your body helps keep your cardiovascular system healthy and working properly. It even helps get rid of the ‘bad’ LDL from your arteries, carrying it back to the liver where it can be broken down and removed from the body. Amazing, right!
Making sense of the measurements
When you get your cholesterol levels checked, you’ll see both HDL and LDL measurements, but also total cholesterol. Total cholesterol should ideally be lower than 200 mg/dL. Anything between 200-239 mg/dL is borderline and above 240 mg/dL is high.
5 ways to take control of your cholesterol levels
Simply finding out about your personal cholesterol levels and taking action if your numbers aren’t balanced is one step towards better health.
If you find that your LDL levels are too high,or your HDL levels are too low, there are ways to find a better balance. Here’s our top tips to improve your cholesterol levels:
- Favour 'good' fats
You may have heard that saturated fats – the kind found in red meat and dairy products – raise your ‘bad’ cholesterol. So, cutting out things like beef and cheese may help to lower the LDL in your body. However, studies have also shown that some saturated fat isn’t that bad, whereas trans fats are a real ‘no-no’ for your overall cholesterol. Avoid anything labelled with ‘partially hydrogenated vegetable oil’ which might be in margarine, spreads, cakes and biscuits.
- Up your fibre intake
Fibre – specifically soluble fibre – is shown to reduce the absorption of cholesterol into your bloodstream. To get more in your diet, load up on oats, kidney beans, Brussels sprouts and apples. Doesn’t sound great together, but try adding one portion of soluble fibre to each meal to lower LDLs.
- Exercise your way to better cholesterol
Moderate physical activity can help raise ‘good’ cholesterol levels in your body. Remember to check with your doctor when attempting a new exercise routine, but it’s good to aim for about 30 minutes of activity five times a week, or more vigorous 20-minute aerobic exercises for three times per week. If the latter sounds like something you'd like, why not have a go at HIIT exercises?
- Know your numbers
Just measuring and keeping track of your cholesterol levels is a great first step. You can keep a record of your measurements in the Evergreen Life app’s health & fitness monitor and monitor this over time so you’re really taking control of your own health.
- It’s in your genes…
Sometimes your genetics can play a big part in your cholesterol levels. Our DNA metabolic tests can give you an insight into your likelihood of having good or bad cholesterol based on your genes, and give you tips on how to improve your lifestyle choices.
Start monitoring your cholesterol levels today with Evergreen Life and take control of your health.
Good vs. bad cholesterol. (2014).