Cholesterol is thought by many as this evil, gooey substance that needs to be avoided at all costs. In actuality, cholesterol is a basic necessity to life, and not all cholesterol is bad for you. Cholesterol is mostly synthesized in your liver, but you can also acquire dietary cholesterol through animal products like meats, shellfish, dairy and eggs. You body needs to maintain a normal concentration and balance of these molecules to keep your cell membranes intact and to produce vitamin D and hormones. Health risks arise only when your blood concentration of cholesterol becomes higher than normal or out of balance.
Cholesterol can be Good or Bad
After cholesterol is produced or absorbed, it is transported into your bloodstream by carrier proteins and remains in your blood as protein complexes called lipoproteins. There are three basic categories of lipoproteins.
- Low density lipoproteins (LDL): these are your evil doers. They tend to coagulate and form plaques. Increased dietary intake of saturated fats and cholesterol can lead to a rise in your blood LDL and increase your risk of heart diseases.
- Very low density lipoproteins (VLDL): these act similarly to LDL and are also bad for you. VLDL level is affected by your blood triglyceride. When you have a high level of triglyceride in your blood, VLDL increases as well.
- High density lipoproteins (HDL): these are your only “good” cholesterol. HDL catches and removes LDL and VLDL in its path so you are less in danger of plaque formation and atherosclerosis. To keep yourself free of heart troubles, you need to keep your HDL high and all non-HDL low.
What is Considered Healthy Blood Cholesterol?
You can get a reading of your blood cholesterol and estimate your risk of heart disease by taking a simple cholesterol test. This test can show you how your HDL compares to your total blood cholesterol.
Ideal blood cholesterol should be as follows:
- Total blood cholesterol is less than 200.
- HDL is greater than 60.
- The ratio of total blood cholesterol to HDL is less than 3.4 for men and 3.3 for women.
Your risks of strokes and heart disease increases when you deviate from the above range. You will have stepped into the danger zone if you fit into one of these categories:
- Total blood cholesterol exceeds 240.
- HDL becomes less than 40.
- The ratio of total blood cholesterol to HDL becomes greater than 5.0 for both men and women.
How to Increase HDL and Reduce Non-HDL?
To avoid the dangers of getting heart attacks, you need to strive for the ideal blood profile. The following are some simple modifications in your lifestyle that can help you achieve these goals pain-free.
- Avoid dietary intake of saturated fats and cholesterol: these can raise your blood triglycerides and non-HDL.
- Eat plenty of fruits and vegetables: these are naturally cholesterol free and provide essential vitamins and mineral that can help reduce your blood cholesterol.
- Make smart food decisions: choose low-fat or non-fat dairy products. Replace cow’s milk with soy milk. Opt for fish and lean meat rather than red meat, skins and internal organs.
- Eat foods that naturally help maintain your cholesterol balance, such as tuna, walnuts, olive oil and red grapes.
- Do 30 minutes of exercise a day, five days a week.