Cholesterol: The Good, the Bad, and the Healthy!
Chelan Wilkins, RHN
As a nutritionist, I often get asked questions about Cholesterol and what exactly it means to have high Cholesterol, how is it prevented and how do you treat it naturally! There are a lot of health risks that come with high cholesterol such as heart disease, heart attacks, and even strokes. Most physicians today check cholesterol levels as you get older by a blood test to check your levels of HDL, LDL, and total Cholesterol. So what does it mean to have high cholesterol? Well first, let's start off with what "cholesterol" actually is! Most people don’t even understand the difference between “good” cholesterol and “ bad” cholesterol or even the role cholesterol plays in our body!
What is Cholesterol and what does it do?
Cholesterol is produced in our body. About 75-80% of it is produced in our liver and other cells! It's necessary for hormone production, absorption of vitamin D through our skin and even is a needed part of our digestive system! It is a waxy-like substance that we find in our blood. Dietary cholesterol is the type of cholesterol we ingest and is responsible for unhealthy levels of cholesterol in our body! Nutritional sources of cholesterol come from sources such as red meat, poultry, full-fat dairy, trans & saturated fats. When we have too much dietary cholesterol in our diets, this is where our risk for high cholesterol and health concerns arise. When we are talking about “ good “ cholesterol and “ bad” cholesterol it is measured by “HDL” & “ LDL” HDL is high-density lipoprotein, LDL is low-density lipoprotein. HDL considered the good cholesterol because it is helpful in our body in preventing build up in our arteries while LDL is acknowledged as the bad cholesterol and responsible for the build-up of plaque in our arteries and can lead to blockages and severe health concerns. Some of these concerns can be heart attacks, strokes and even DVT (deep vein thrombosis) – a blood clot anywhere in the body.
HDL contains a higher level of protein and a lower level of cholesterol - therefore being more optional in the body making it the right cholesterol. LDL contains more cholesterol (dietary) and lower levels of protein, thus, being a risk factor. When we talk about cholesterol levels, triglycerides are also a factor as they are the most common type of fat that we find in our body. Having high amounts of triglycerides in the body can be a risk factor alongside high LDL levels as this will contribute to the increase of plaque buildup in our arteries as well as it can increase your risk for metabolic syndrome which can lead to diabetes, stroke and heart disease. High cholesterols levels are linked to lifestyle, dietary intake and sometimes genetics. Most often when diagnosed with high cholesterol levels, physicians will prescribe medications such as statins (they lower LDL levels in the blood) and will recommend changing your dietary intake of cholesterol!
How do you prevent high cholesterol?
Lifestyle changes are essential when it comes to lowering cholesterol levels in the body, for optimal heart health and overall wellness. Stress, lifestyle, dietary factors and smoking call all play a role in our cholesterol levels, and as a nutritionist, I can’t stress the importance of recognizing the importance of these.
I often tell my clients, you don’t have to wait until you have a high cholesterol diagnosis to make the changes in your diet. Watching your diet ( particularly your Trans/ Saturated fat intake), sugar consumption, red meat and high-fat dairy and processed foods, exercising at least 30 minutes a day all play a role in preventative measures, as well as help, bring down those high levels of cholesterol in your body. Making sure to consume lots of fresh vegetables, omega three fatty acids such as salmon, chia seeds, krill oil, and avocados are also beneficial for heart health, alongside reducing sugary sweets and bread for optimal health. I recommend at least 2 cups of vegetables at each meal, fresh fruit, healthy fats ( nuts, avocados, olive oils, coconut oil), lean meats and avoiding full-fat dairy for reducing and preventing high cholesterol levels in the body. Being mindful of nutrition labels when purchasing foods in the aisle, look at the saturated fat content and opt for fresh foods on the outside of the grocery store instead. Sedentary lifestyles also play a role in high cholesterol levels, so making sure you get at least 30 minutes of exercise a day will also play a role in preventative and reducing those high levels. A brisk walk, run, or even a yoga class can do your heart and health good!
Should I be supplementing?
Supplementing your daily routine as well with a few heart essentials can also be beneficial. Organika's, Cholesterol, Red Yeast Rice and Krill Oil are my favourites. With a potent mixture of phytosterols, oats, green tea and red yeast rice extracts, Cholesterol is the complete package for reducing triglycerides, LDL and total cholesterol. Red Yeast Rice has been used traditionally in Asia for centuries and is made by fermenting Red Yeast (Monascus purpureus) with rice. This formula contains 500mg of red yeast rice and 150mg of free plant sterols. Red Yeast Rice is a completely natural way of lowering total blood cholesterol and LDL cholesterol, both of which are risk factors towards heart disease and stroke. Make sure to take a Coenzyme Q10 Supplement as it will deplete your COQ10 levels when taking Red Yeast Rice. Omega 3 Fatty acids like Krill Oil are essential for cardiovascular and brain health. They play a role in reducing triglyceride levels in the blood and help reduces blockages in the arteries! Antioxidants also play a significant role in heart health! Antioxidants purposes in the body are to bind to the free radicals which can damage or alter our cells, fight oxidative stress and play a role in heart health! Grape Seed Extract is a very potent source of antioxidants known to strengthen the collagen lining of our vessels as well as increase circulation the body, therefore, decreasing the risk of blood clots and inflammation. In addition to a heart-healthy diet, exercise routine and lifestyle change these supplements can play a preventative measure in your cholesterol and heart health!