The Basics of Cholesterol Levels

June 7, 2010

Many people seek to avoid high cholesterol levels, using a diet to lower cholesterol, taking special medications, or trying to lower cholesterol naturally by eating phytosterols. However, when managing your cholesterol it’s important to understand that it plays a necessary part in a healthy body. Cholesterol is naturally produced by the liver and functions in the building of different key bodily elements including hormones, vitamins, and cell membranes. Generally, and to an unknown (and heavily speculated) extent, our body adjusts to the level of cholesterol supplemented by our diets. For this reason, the role of cholesterol as a factor in heart and cardiovascular disease is debated.

Still, the common consensus is that it’s best to have balanced cholesterol levels, and to restrict the amount of cholesterol consumed in our diets. Since cholesterol is found in animal fat, and a diet low in fat is healthy for many other reasons (lower cancer risk, for example), for someone leading, or looking to lead a healthy lifestyle, tailoring a diet to lower cholesterol is not exceedingly difficult.

Most of any meal or snack should be made up of fruits and vegetables, with complex carbohydrates and meat making up smaller portions. For a healthy person this should be enough, so long as the consumption of heavily processed foods and fats (like trans fat) remains low. In evaluating the amount of cholesterol consumed, make sure to count animal fat from foods made with lard, butter, milk, eggs, etc. such as baked goods.

You should talk regularly with your doctor about your heart health and heart attack/stroke risk, and as a part of risk considerations your doctor may recommend that you get your cholesterol levels checked, and that you make certain life changes depending on the result of the tests.

To reduce the amount of animal fat in your diet (and lower cholesterol naturally), focus on eating more fruits and vegetables and leaner proteins. If you need to lose weight as part of your heart (and overall) health, try to reduce processed foods and baked goods. One easy substitution if you have a sweet tooth: Angel Food Cake. It’s made with egg whites (no yolks) and has very little fat in it.

Phytosterols are believed by some to reduce the amount of cholesterol you consume by blocking its absorption, and is thus lauded as a way to lower cholesterol naturally. Phytosterols, or plant sterols, are found in plants (such as peanuts, making it a great alternative protein source), as well as supplements that can be added to your meals.

In consideration not just of your cholesterol levels but your heart health in general, consider adding more B vitamins and folate to your diet (which are tied to lower homocysteine levels), as well as antioxidants.

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