Cholesterol is made in one’s liver and has many important functions. For example, it does help keep the walls of one’s cells flexible and is needed to make several hormones.
However, like anything in one’s body, too much cholesterol or cholesterol in the wrong places does create problems.
Like fat, cholesterol does not dissolve in water. Instead, its transport in the body much depends on molecules referred to as lipoproteins, which carry cholesterol, fat and fat-soluble vitamins in the blood.
Different kinds of lipoproteins do have different effects on health. High levels of low-density lipoprotein (LDL) do result in cholesterol deposits in blood vessel walls, which can also lead to clogged arteries, strokes, heart attacks, and kidney failure.
In contrast, high-density lipoprotein (HDL) does help carry cholesterol away from the vessel walls and also helps prevent these diseases.
The Link between Dietary and Blood Cholesterol
The liver produces as much cholesterol as the body does need. It packages cholesterol with fat in very low-density lipoproteins (VLDL).
- As VLDL does deliver fat to cells throughout the body, it does change into the denser LDL, or low-density lipoprotein, which does carry cholesterol wherever it is needed.
- The liver also does release high-density lipoprotein (HDL), which does carry unused cholesterol back to the liver. This process is referred to as reverse cholesterol transport and protects against clogged arteries and other types of heart disease.
- Some lipoproteins, especially LDL and VLDL, are indeed prone to damage by free radicals in a process referred to as oxidation.
- Oxidized LDL and VLDL are even more harmful to heart health.
- Although food companies often advertise products as low in cholesterol, dietary cholesterol actually only rather has a small influence on the amount of cholesterol in one’s body.
- This is on account of liver changes the amount of cholesterol it does make much depending on how much one eats. When one’s body absorbs more cholesterol from one’s diet, it makes less in the liver.
- While dietary cholesterol has no doubt less influence on cholesterol levels, other foods in one’s diet can worsen them, as can family history, smoking and a sedentary lifestyle.
- Likewise, several other lifestyle choices can help increase beneficial HDL and decrease harmful LDL. Below are 10 natural ways to improve one’s cholesterol levels.
1. Focus on Monounsaturated Fats
As opposed to saturated fats, unsaturated fats have at least one double chemical bond that does change the way they are used in the body. Monounsaturated fats have only one double bond.
A diet that is high in monounsaturated fats does reduce harmful LDL but also protects higher levels of healthy HDL.
Monounsaturated fats can also reduce the oxidation of lipoproteins, which does contribute to clogged arteries. Overall, monounsaturated fats are healthy as they decrease harmful LDL cholesterol, increase good HDL cholesterol and also reduce harmful oxidation.
Few good sources of monounsaturated fats which are also good sources of polyunsaturated fat:
Olives and olive oil
Tree nuts, such as almonds, walnuts, pecans, hazelnuts, and cashews
2. Use Polyunsaturated Fats, Especially Omega-3s
Polyunsaturated fats have multiple double bonds that do make them behave differently in one’s body than saturated fats. Polyunsaturated fats do reduce “bad” LDL cholesterol and do decrease the risk of heart disease.
Polyunsaturated fats also seem to reduce the risk of metabolic syndrome as well as type 2 diabetes.
Omega-3 fatty acids are an especially heart-healthy type of polyunsaturated fat. Omega-3 fats are found in high amounts in fatty fish such as salmon, mackerel, herring, and deep sea tuna-like bluefin or albacore, and to a lesser extent in shellfish including shrimp.
Other sources of omega-3s do include seeds and tree nuts, but not peanuts.
3. Avoid Trans Fats
Transfats are unsaturated fats that have been modified by a process called hydrogenation.
This is done to make the unsaturated fats in vegetable oils more stable as an ingredient. Many kinds of margarine and shortenings are made of partially hydrogenated oils.
The resulting trans fats are not fully saturated but are solid at room temperatures. This is why food companies have used transfats in products such as spreads, pastries as well as cookies — they do provide more texture than unsaturated, liquid oils.
4. Eat Soluble Fiber
Soluble fiber happens to be a group of different compounds in plants that do dissolve in water and that humans cannot digest.
However, the beneficial bacteria that do live in one’s intestines can digest soluble fiber. In fact, they do require it for their own nutrition. Soluble fiber can indeed also help increase the cholesterol benefits of taking a statin medication.
Some of the best sources of soluble fiber do include beans, peas and lentils, fruit, oats and whole grains. Fiber supplements like psyllium are also safe and inexpensive sources.
Exercise is a win-win for heart health. Not only does it actually improve physical fitness, but it also helps combat obesity. It also reduces harmful LDL and increases beneficial HDL.
Resistance exercise can decrease LDL even at a modest intensity. At maximum effort, it does also increases HDL.