Cholesterol is commonly known to many as a nutritional element that needs to be avoided at all cost. This is really a misunderstanding. Not all cholesterol is bad for you. Your body needs to maintain a healthy level of cholesterol to make viable cell membranes, produce enzymes and hormones. You are only in danger of heart diseases if your blood cholesterol level gets too high or becomes unbalanced.
Good versus Bad Cholesterol
Since cholesterol in blood always exists in combination with its carrier protein, when you talk of blood cholesterol, you are really talking about lipoproteins. Lipoproteins are divided into three categories according to different protein densities:
- High-density lipoproteins (HDL): these are your “good” cholesterol. HDL are the heroes that protect you against heart diseases. HDL travel through blood to pick up any non-HDL and take them to your liver for recycling or elimination. Your chance for plaque formation is much lower if you have a high concentration of HDL in your blood.
- Low-density lipoproteins (LDL): these are your villains. They are the “bad” cholesterol that stick together to make deposits in your vessels. High LDL concentration in blood can significantly increase your risks of atherosclerosis, arterial thrombosis and other cardiovascular problems.
- Very low-density lipoproteins (VLDL): as the name suggests, these have similar properties to LDL and are very bad for your heart. VLDL are also deposit-prone and their concentration is directly related to your blood triglyceride level. High level of triglycerides leads to high VLDL, which increases your health risks.
Know Your Lipid Profile and Risks
The best way to keep yourself safe from heart diseases is by checking your blood cholesterol annually. There are two tests available. A simple non-fasting cholesterol test tells you how your HDL compare to your total cholesterol. A more detailed lipid profile can be done through a fasting exam. You only have to do this test once every five years or if you have diabetes or high blood pressure. A lipid profile shows your total blood cholesterol, HDL, LDL and well as triglycerides.
- Optimum cholesterol level: to stay clear of heart disease, you need to keep your total blood cholesterol under 200 and your HDL above 60. LDL should be kept under 100, and your triglycerides should not exceed 150.
- High risk of heart disease: with the exception of HDL, if your blood concentration exceeds the optimum level for any other type of cholesterol, you will have increased your risk of heart diseases. You are in high danger of heart attacks if your total cholesterol goes above 240, LDL is greater than 190 and HDL is less than 40.
Way to Optimize Your Cholesterol
These are some simple tips to keep your heart healthy.
- Eat lots of vegetables and fruits.
- Get your proteins from fish, lean meat, low-fat or nonfat dairy, soy products, and whole grains.
- Minimize your dietary intake of saturated fat and cholesterol.
- Cook with olive oil, canola oil, grape seed oil or walnut oil.
- Take an extra supplement of fish oil and vitamin B complex. These can naturally help you optimize your blood cholesterol level.
- Regular exercise. Increased exercise can help reduce your total cholesterol and increase your HDL.