Cholesterol: Definition, Benefits, and Risks

Cholesterol has one of the worst reputations among the many terms associated with our health. When people hear the word “cholesterol,” they think of poor health, obesity, and other negative subjects. What many people don’t realize is that cholesterol is not inherently bad. Everyone has cholesterol in their body, and you need to have cholesterol to survive.

Cholesterol is an essential organic compound that serves many vital bodily functions. To understand cholesterol, one needs to look at what it is. Cholesterol is an organic compound found in the blood and body tissues. It is a type of lipid or fat. It’s necessary for many bodily functions, such as producing hormones and helping us digest food.

Cholesterol helps produce Vitamin D and some hormones. It’s crucial for building cell membranes and assists with other functions. Despite its bad reputation, proper cholesterol levels benefit your health.

While cholesterol is essential, there can also be too much cholesterol in your body. Excess cholesterol can lead to an increased risk of cardiovascular disease and other health problems. It’s important to understand cholesterol levels and what constitutes healthy cholesterol.

Your doctor can measure your cholesterol levels with a blood test. There are different cholesterol levels, but the main two are high-density lipoprotein (HDL) and low-density lipoprotein (LDL). Your cholesterol levels should generally be higher in HDL than LDL. 

One way to maintain healthy cholesterol levels is through diet and exercise. Eating plenty of fruits, vegetables, and foods low in saturated fat and cholesterol can help keep cholesterol levels in check. Part of this is also exercising to stay active, which helps keep cholesterol levels in check.

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This article will tell you everything you need to know about cholesterol, from what it is to how to maintain healthy cholesterol levels. With this information, you can understand cholesterol and make the right decisions for a healthier lifestyle.

What Is Cholesterol in The Body?

Cholesterol is a waxy substance that your body needs to perform certain actions. It is a type of lipid or fat that helps with many essential functions, such as producing hormones, helping you digest food, and producing crucial vitamins. Without these hormones, your body can’t regulate itself properly and therefore doesn’t function correctly. There are different cholesterol levels, but the main two are high-density lipoprotein (HDL) and low-density lipoprotein (LDL).

What Is Cholesterol in The Body
What Is Cholesterol in The Body?

Your liver produces cholesterol, but it can also be found in your food. Your liver makes all the cholesterol that your body needs. You do not need to supplement it.

However, if you consume foods high in trans and saturated fats, your liver can go into overdrive and produce more cholesterol than necessary. Oils such as palm, palm kernel, and coconut oil can also cause your body to have more cholesterol than is needed.

There is also dietary cholesterol. Foods like egg yolks, organ meats, and shellfish contain cholesterol; as your body digests the food, it will naturally absorb the cholesterol.

What Does Cholesterol Do in Your Body?

As mentioned earlier, cholesterol is an essential building block found in every cell in your body. Your cells use cholesterol to produce hormones, vitamins, and digestive enzymes.

What Does Cholesterol Do in Your Body
What Does Cholesterol Do in Your Body?

Cholesterol also helps form the structure of your cell membranes. By helping to make and regulate cell membrane cholesterol levels, cholesterol helps maintain the integrity and shape of cells.

It also helps with other functions. For example, cholesterol can help transport fat-soluble vitamins throughout the body, allowing your cells and tissues to absorb the essential vitamins. Without cholesterol, your body wouldn’t function correctly.

Where Does Cholesterol Come From?

As previously mentioned, your liver produces cholesterol. The liver produces all the cholesterol your body needs. You can boost your liver’s production of cholesterol by consuming trans and saturated fats.

There is another form of cholesterol known as dietary cholesterol. Your body absorbs this type of cholesterol from food sources, such as egg yolks, shellfish, and organ meats. Almost all dietary cholesterol comes from animal products.

Is Cholesterol Important in Our Body?

Yes, cholesterol is incredibly important in our body. As mentioned, cholesterol helps produce essential hormones, vitamins, and fatty acids. It also helps form and maintain the shape of your cell membranes.

Cholesterol helps transport fatty acids and cholesterol-soluble vitamins throughout the body. Without cholesterol, it would be difficult for the body to absorb essential vitamins and fatty acids.

Finally, cholesterol helps with other vital functions in the body. It is an essential building block that helps keep your cells healthy and functioning correctly.

What Are the Different Types of Cholesterol in Our Body?

There are several different types of cholesterol in your body. There are three main types; triglycerides, low-density lipoprotein, high-density lipoprotein.

What Are the Different Types of Cholesterol in Our Body
What Are the Different Types of Cholesterol in Our Body?

1. Triglycerides

Triglycerides are a type of cholesterol that is made up mainly of fats. You often find this type of cholesterol in fatty or processed foods. Your body uses triglycerides for energy. High levels of triglycerides can result in a cholesterol plaque buildup in the body.

The difference between triglycerides and other types of cholesterol is that triglycerides do not enter the bloodstream. They remain in your body until they are used for energy or stored as fat.

2. Low-Density Lipoprotein (LDL)

Low-density lipoprotein cholesterol, also known as bad cholesterol, is the type of cholesterol that can build up on your artery walls. This type of cholesterol can lead to a heart attack or stroke if you do not manage it correctly. The buildup of plaque caused by LDLs is known as atherosclerosis.

Plaque buildup can also reduce blood and oxygen flow to your major organs. In the long run, this can cause kidney and peripheral arterial diseases.

Your body needs some cholesterol to function, but too much cholesterol can lead to problems. High LDL cholesterol levels can be caused by consuming trans and saturated fats, smoking, and not exercising.

LDLs transport cholesterol around the body. They are the primary carrier of cholesterol in the bloodstream.

3. High-Density Lipoprotein (HDL)

High-density lipoprotein cholesterol, also known as good cholesterol, helps remove excess cholesterol from your blood vessels and transports the cholesterol to your liver to be removed from your bloodstream. This cholesterol benefits the body because it helps prevent cholesterol from collecting in your arteries. Exercising, eating a healthy diet, and not smoking can help boost your HDL levels.

The difference between HDL and LDLs is their structure. A single LDL particle is about 50% cholesterol and 25% protein. HDLs switch the ratios and are 20% cholesterol and 50% protein. The additional protein is what makes HDLs high-density.

Additionally, the types of protein of the HDLs and LDLs differ. LDLs have B-100 proteins, while HDLs have A-I and A-II proteins. The type of protein determines the function of the cholesterol molecule.

HDLs transport cholesterol around the body, just like LDLs do. However, they only carry cholesterol away from your major organs and to your liver. HDLs only carry cholesterol in one direction.

4. Lipoprotein(a) Cholesterol

Liliprotein(a), or Lp(a), cholesterol is a type of cholesterol comprising two components: an LDL particle and a protein. This type of cholesterol is found in a small percentage of the population and can increase your risk of cardiovascular disease.

The Lp(a) is a lipoprotein made of protein and fat, carrying cholesterol throughout the bloodstream. La(a) cholesterol is likely to create plaque buildup in your arteries, which can result in a heart attack or stroke. It can also cause coronary artery disease.

The Lp(a) cholesterol is unaffected by cholesterol-lowering medications and diet changes. People with high Lp(a) cholesterol levels should talk to their doctor about lifestyle modifications and cholesterol-lowering medications.

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What Are the Health Benefits of Cholesterol in Our Body?

Cholesterol is an essential molecule for the body. It helps with many vital functions, such as forming hormones and creating cell membranes. Additionally, cholesterol helps to create bile acid, which digests fat.

Cholesterol also prevents our bodies from becoming overly acidic and helps protect our cells from oxidative damage. It helps regulate cholesterol levels, ensuring your liver produces and passes cholesterol as needed.

When cholesterol levels are too low, it can cause our bodies to become overworked and cause cholesterol production to increase.

What Are the Health Risks of Cholesterol in Our Body?

Cholesterol is not inherently dangerous. Your body produces it naturally and needs it for essential bodily functions. However, if your body has too much cholesterol or the foods you consume are pushing your cholesterol levels out of a healthy range, you are putting yourself at risk.

High cholesterol levels can put you at risk for many health problems, such as cardiovascular disease, stroke, and high blood pressure. 

High cholesterol is dangerous because it can cause cholesterol plaque to form in the arteries, which can restrict blood flow and lead to blockages. Blockages in arterial pathways can increase your risk for stroke, heart attack, and other cardiovascular issues.

How to know if you have High Cholesterol?

High cholesterol doesn’t usually exhibit symptoms and can only be detected with a cholesterol test. A cholesterol test only takes a few minutes; a nurse can complete it with a simple blood draw. Results from cholesterol tests usually come back within a few days and often show cholesterol levels as total cholesterol, LDL cholesterol, HDL cholesterol, and triglycerides.

If your cholesterol levels are high, you should work with your doctor to determine the best course of action. Treatment for high cholesterol can involve lifestyle changes such as eating healthier, exercising regularly, and limiting cholesterol-rich foods.

It is essential to stay informed and aware of your cholesterol levels to reduce your risks of developing cholesterol-related health issues, such as heart disease or stroke.

Is Getting Fat a sign of High Cholesterol?

No, getting fat does not directly indicate high cholesterol but can increase your risk for cholesterol-related health problems. Eating an unhealthy diet and not exercising can, in turn, increase your cholesterol levels.

Maintaining a healthy weight through regular exercise and eating nutrient-rich foods can reduce cholesterol levels and your risk for cholesterol-related health issues.

It’s important to note that cholesterol is just one piece of the puzzle regarding overall health. Eating a balanced diet and staying active are essential for reducing cholesterol levels and promoting general well-being.

What Causes High Cholesterol Levels?

Various factors, such as dietary choices, genetics, and underlying health conditions, can cause high cholesterol levels.

Dietary choices are one of the most significant contributors to cholesterol levels. Foods high in saturated fat, trans fat, cholesterol, and sodium can increase cholesterol levels. Eating cholesterol-rich foods can also increase cholesterol in the bloodstream.

Genetics can also play a role in cholesterol levels. If your parents have cholesterol problems, you may be more likely to have cholesterol-related issues.

Certain health conditions can also lead to increased cholesterol levels. Diabetes, hypothyroidism, and chronic kidney disease are associated with cholesterol issues.

It’s essential to understand the various factors contributing to cholesterol levels to stay informed and work to maintain healthy cholesterol levels.

What Are the Foods That Cause High Cholesterol?

Foods that contain saturated fat, trans fats and cholesterol can increase cholesterol levels. Some examples of foods that cause high cholesterol include:

  • egg yolks
  • red meat
  • shellfish
  • dairy products
  • fatty cuts of beef and pork
  • poultry skin
  • processed foods
  • crackers
  • margarine

While you are shopping, you should keep an eye out for trans fats. Many labels hide the presence of trans fats if the serving is less than 0.5 grams per serving. Check the ingredient list for hydrogenated and partially hydrogenated fats. These fats are most common in processed foods, baked goods, and some types of peanut butter.

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Finally, you should avoid refined sugar and processed carbohydrates like white bread, flour, white rice, and soda. Your body quickly turns processed carbs into sugar which can boost your fat levels and increase cholesterol.

What Is the Normal Cholesterol Level?

The normal cholesterol level is anything below 200 mg/dL. If your cholesterol levels are higher than this, it may be a sign that cholesterol levels are too high and could increase your risk for cholesterol-related health issues.

It is important to note that cholesterol levels can vary depending on your age, gender, and other factors. Working with your doctor can help you understand what cholesterol levels are best for you.

How to Reduce High Cholesterol Levels?

There are a variety of ways to reduce cholesterol levels. Eating a healthy diet, exercising regularly, and managing underlying conditions can help keep cholesterol levels in check.

Eating cholesterol-rich and fatty foods should be limited or avoided while eating heart-healthy foods, and cholesterol-lowering foods should be encouraged.

Exercise is also vital for cholesterol levels as it can help reduce cholesterol, lower blood pressure, and promote good health.

If lifestyle modifications are insufficient, medications can help you reduce cholesterol levels. Talking to your doctor before beginning any cholesterol-lowering regimen is always best.

Can diet be an effective way Reduce High Cholesterol?

Yes, eating cholesterol-lowering foods like vegetables and fruits, high-fiber whole grains, fish, and nuts can help lower cholesterol levels. Limiting cholesterol-rich and fatty foods can also help reduce cholesterol levels. A healthy, balanced diet is essential for lowering cholesterol and promoting overall health.

Some examples of high-fiber foods include beans, lentils, fruits, and vegetables. The fruits and vegetables can be fresh or frozen. Whole grains like brown rice, whole-wheat bread, and quinoa are also great options.

Many cholesterol-reducing diets try to avoid unhealthy fats. However, it would be best if you still tried to include healthy, unsaturated fats like nuts and seeds, olive oil, and other foods rich in omega-3 fatty acids. Salmon is an excellent source of omega-3.

What type of diet is the most effective in reducing High Cholesterol?

The most effective cholesterol-lowering diet type is low in cholesterol, saturated, and trans fats. Avoid cholesterol-rich foods like red meat, eggs, and processed food. It would be best to eat as many low-cholesterol foods as possible. Healthy choices include vegetables, fruits, whole grains, fish, and nuts.

What is an example of a Low Cholesterol Diet Plan?

This diet plan is an example of a seven-day low-cholesterol diet plan. This diet focuses on reducing your cholesterol intake so your body can establish a healthy cholesterol level. This meal plan emphasizes natural and unprocessed foods and creates a calorie deficit to help you lose weight.

Day 1

  • Breakfast: apple and peanut butter toast with a large pear 
  • Lunch: Veggie and hummus sandwich and a medium orange 
  • Dinner: Oven-roasted salmon with sweet potatoes and broccoli and a side of dry roasted almonds 

Day 2

  • Breakfast: Overnight oats with cinnamon and low-fat plain Greek-style yogurt 
  • Lunch: Kale, sweet potato, and chicken salad with peanut dressing topped with dry roasted almonds 
  • Dinner: A stuffed sweet potato with hummus and sliced vegetables 

Day 3

  • Breakfast: Overnight oats with fresh fruit, non-fat yogurt, and a cup of coffee 
  • Lunch: Greek salad with tomatoes, cucumbers, chicken, and garbanzo beans 
  • Dinner: Turkey and sweet potato chili with greek yogurt and a chopped salad with fresh guacamole 

Day 4

  • Breakfast: Non-fat Greek yogurt with fresh fruit and granola 
  • Lunch: A chopped salad with strawberries and apples with a large pear and an orange 
  • Dinner: One pot lemon chicken and potatoes with a side of fresh kale 

Day 5

  • Breakfast:  Avocado toast with a medium orange 
  • Lunch: Vegetable soup with beans, carrots, and celery with a small side salad
  • Dinner: Crockpot Mediterranean stew with fresh greens and half an avocado 

Day 6

  • Breakfast: Oatmeal with walnuts, raisins, and low-fat milk
  • Lunch: Tuna wrap with tomatoes, cucumbers, lettuce and a hummus dressing, and a side fruit salad
  • Dinner: Balsamic vinaigrette roasted chickpeas and vegetables with fresh vegetables and a low-calorie citrus vinaigrette 

Day 7

  • Breakfast: Omelet with spinach, mushrooms, and tomatoes and a side of fruit 
  • Lunch: Quinoa salad with feta cheese and olives with dry roasted almonds and an apple 
  • Dinner: Honey walnut shrimp with brown rice

You can easily adjust this sample meal plan to meet your daily caloric needs. If you exercise, you may need to add more calories depending on your activity level. Consult with a dietitian for personalized cholesterol advice. 

What Are the Foods to Take in your Diet to Lower Cholesterol?

Foods that can help lower cholesterol levels include cholesterol-lowering foods like fruits, vegetables, nuts and seeds, and whole grains. Soluble fiber, which you can find in oats, barley, and legumes, can also lower cholesterol levels. Additionally, adding fatty fish like salmon can help reduce cholesterol levels.

Eating cholesterol-lowering foods and replacing high-cholesterol foods with cholesterol-lowering foods is vital to reduce your cholesterol through the diet. Adding more nutrition to your high-cholesterol choices will not make a positive difference.

How Long Will It Take to Lower My Cholesterol with Diet and Exercise?

It can take one to four months to lower cholesterol levels with diet and exercise, depending on your current cholesterol level and other health factors. However, it is essential to remember that cholesterol levels can vary from person to person, and the amount of time it will take to decrease may also vary.

The amount of time it takes to adjust your cholesterol levels also depends on the lifestyle changes and cholesterol-lowering regimen you adopt, as well as any underlying health conditions and your genetic predisposition to higher cholesterol levels.

It is essential to consult a doctor before beginning any cholesterol-lowering regimen and stick with it to reduce cholesterol levels.

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Is it possible to reduce cholesterol in 30 days?

Reducing cholesterol levels in 30 days is possible, but it is essential to remember that cholesterol levels can vary from person to person. Diet and exercise are crucial for cholesterol-lowering and can help achieve cholesterol levels in 30 days. However, it largely depends on how high your cholesterol levels are and how closely you stick to the low-cholesterol regimens.

If you want to lower your cholesterol in just 30 days, you need to stick to the cholesterol-lowering lifestyle modifications, including eating a cholesterol-lowering diet, exercising regularly, and managing underlying conditions. A doctor may also prescribe you cholesterol-lowering medications as well.

It is important to always talk to your doctor before beginning any cholesterol-lowering regimen and stick with it to reduce cholesterol levels. With suitable lifestyle modifications and a cholesterol-lowering diet, you can lower cholesterol in 30 days and maintain healthy cholesterol levels for the foreseeable future.

Can Exercising Reduce High Cholesterol?

Exercise is an essential part of cholesterol-lowering. Regular exercise helps to reduce cholesterol levels by improving cholesterol profiles and increasing the amount of good cholesterol, or HDL cholesterol. Exercise also helps lower LDL cholesterol, triglycerides, and other markers linked to heart disease.

The American Heart Association recommends at least 30 minutes of moderate physical activity daily for most days of the week. Cardio and light weight lifting are some of the best types of exercise to lower your cholesterol levels. However, exercise intensity and duration can vary from person to person based on cholesterol levels, age, and any underlying health conditions.

Can You Take Supplements to Lower Cholesterol?

There are natural cholesterol-lowering supplements that can help lower cholesterol levels. Many of these are plant sterols and stanols, cholesterol-lowering compounds in foods such as nuts, seeds, and plant-based oils. Additional cholesterol-lowering supplements include omega-3 fatty acids and cholesterol-lowering herbs and spices.

Speaking with a doctor before taking cholesterol-lowering supplements to manage cholesterol is essential. Supplements can help reduce cholesterol levels but may also interact with medications or contain harmful side effects. Before taking them, being informed and aware of cholesterol-lowering supplements is critical.

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The Athletic Insight Research team consists of a dedicated team of researchers, Doctors, Registered Dieticians, nationally certified nutritionists and personal trainers. Our team members hold prestigious accolades within their discipline(s) of expertise, as well as nationally recognized certifications. These include; National Academy of Sports Medicine Certified Personal Trainer (NASM-CPT), American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM), National Strength and Conditioning Association (NSCA-CPT), National Academy of Sports Medicine Certified Nutrition Coach (NASM-CNC), International Sports Sciences Association Nutritionist Certification.