Updated: Mar 2, 2019
For a long-time, we have heard a lot about cholesterol. Chances are, if you have been worried about cholesterol you might have been told to reduce how much cholesterol you eat.
And when we think about it, it can make sense why...
High blood cholesterol level is a risk factor for heart disease.
So it makes sense that for a long time dietary cholesterol would be something that we thought about and believed we need to reduce.
However, in recent years, there has been more research that dietary cholesterol may not play as much of a role as once thought.
But before we jump into what to eat and even some misconceptions, let's make sure we're on the same page when it comes to what exactly cholesterol is. And then answer some common questions about cholesterol.
What is “Cholesterol”?
When thinking about cholesterol, most of us are likely thinking of just that – the cholesterol in our body.
However, when we are looking at cholesterol levels, we are really looking at are the structures that cholesterol is bound to and helps move through the bloodstream. These compounds that carry the cholesterol, as well as fats and specials proteins are called “lipoproteins”.
So cholesterol is just one component of a compound that floats around your blood.
Actually, depending on what lipoprotein it is combined with can lead to opposite effects on your arteries and heart then we might typically think of. Yup... meaning that some of this can actually be beneficial for heart health. More on that soon.
These lipoproteins are grouped into two main categories:
HDL: High Density Lipoprotein (AKA “good” cholesterol) that “cleans up” some of those infamous “arterial plaques” and transports cholesterol back to the liver.
LDL: Low Density Lipoprotein (AKA “bad” cholesterol) that transports cholesterol from the liver (and is the kind found to accumulate in arteries and become easily oxidized hence their “badness”).
And yes, I know that can be confusing, but there is more.
Each of these categories is further broken down into subcategories which can also be measured in a blood test.
With all of this being said, “cholesterol” isn't simply cholesterol. Cholesterol has very different effects on your body depending on which other molecules it's bound to in your blood and what it is actually doing there.
Is cholesterol bad?
Cholesterol is necessary in our body. It is needed for your body to produce critical things like vitamin D when your skin is exposed to the sun, your sex hormones (e.g. estrogen and testosterone), as well as bile to help you absorb dietary fats. Not to mention that it's incorporated into the membranes structure of your cells.
The overall amount of cholesterol in your blood (AKA “total cholesterol”) isn't nearly as important as how much of each kind you have in your blood.
Having too much LDL cholesterol (remember this is the “bad” one) as compared with HDL (the “good” one) may be associated with an increased risk of heart disease. This comparison of “bad” to “good” cholesterol is also known as the LDL:HDL ratio.
Will eating cholesterol increase your bad cholesterol?
Most of the cholesterol in your blood is made by your liver. It's actually not from the cholesterol you eat. That is why cholesterol medications block an enzyme in your liver (HMG Co-A reductase, to be exact)... that's where it's made!
As we have seen, the cholesterol found in your food and the cholesterol found in your blood can be two very different things we are looking at.
However, what you eat still can affect how much cholesterol your liver produces.
In fact, there is some research that shows that after a cholesterol-rich meal your liver doesn't need to make as much. When we don’t eat as much, our liver may produce more. That is why it's less of an emphasis to reduce these days, as the amount we eat might not effect our blood levels as much as once thought.
With that being said, it doesn't mean we should go and eat tons of cholesterol containing foods and reduce or avoid enough plant-based foods (as only animal products will have cholesterol, not plants). Reducing cholesterol containing foods (again animal products) can be still a healthy choice for many people and can show positive benefits for some in their cholesterol levels as there are some people who are going to still be more sensitive to the dietary cholesterol.
So do you need to keep your cholesterol should be as low as possible?
As with almost everything in health and wellness there's a balance that needs to be maintained. There are very few extremes that are going to serve you well.
So while have excessive amounts of cholesterol is still not a good idea, we don’t need to cut out all cholesterol either. People with too-low levels of cholesterol have increased risk of death from other non-heart-related issues.
So what happens if you have high cholesterol? Are drugs the only way to get a good cholesterol balance?
Don't start or stop any medications without talking with your doctor.
And while drugs can certainly lower the “bad” LDL cholesterol they don't seem to be able to raise the “good” HDL cholesterol all that well.
Guess what does?
Nutrition and exercise!
One of the most impactful ways to lower your cholesterol with diet is to eat lots of fruits and veggies. I mean lots! I would say at least 10 servings a day, as 7-13 servings is really what most people need. Every day.
I know, that can feel like a lot. Even on a good day, it can be a challenging for an average healthy eater to get 10 servings a day.
Don't worry, I have got your back!
First, right below this, you will find a recipe that should help you add at least another salad to your day.
However, one simple change that can help add in nutrients from 30 different organic, non-GMO, vine-ripened fruits, vegetables, and berries EVERY SINGLE DAY is with Juice Plus+. Now, this doesn’t replace healthy eating, but it does help make sure we are nourishing our bodies with this whole food nutrition every day.
Not only is Juice Plus+ real food (not a supplement), but it also has almost 40 clinical research studies show many different health benefits. And guess what one of those benefits are?
Yup... heart health!
Various research studies have shown that Juice Plus+ can help better maintain normal, health elasticity or arteries and reduce positive effects on several other measures of heart health. It was even seen to help reduce the immediate adverse impact of high-fat meals. Overall, showing that Juice Plus+ can help with important components of a heart healthy diet.
Lastly, you can (should?) also exercise, lose weight, stop smoking, and eat better quality fats. That means fatty fish, avocados and olive oil. Ditch those over-processed hydrogenated “trans” fats. All of these can also help increase that good HDL cholesterol.
The science of cholesterol and heart health is complicated and we're learning more every day. Although, you may not need to be as afraid of it as you are. But keeping a healthy balance and still including a lot of fruits, vegetables, and activity is recommended from a nutrition and lifestyle perspective to improve your cholesterol level.
Recipe (Dressing to go with your salad): Orange Hemp Seed Dressing
Makes about ¾ cup
½ cup hemp seeds
½ cup orange juice
1 clove of garlic, peeled
dash salt and/or pepper
Blend all ingredients together until creamy.
Serve on top of your favorite salad and Enjoy!
Tip: Store extra in airtight container in the fridge. Will keep for about a week.