Did you know that over 13% of adults in the United States have high cholesterol? According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, this seemingly high statistic has actually decreased in the past decade, which is wonderful news that we should all celebrate. Then again, 13% of the United States is a large number of people, considering the serious complications that can result from high cholesterol.
Why You Should Care About Cholesterol
First thing's first: we will never have zero cholesterol, nor should we aim for zero. Our bodies need cholesterol to make hormones and vitamin D, and because of this, our bodies create enough of the waxy substance so that it is in all cells of the body. However, when the ratio of cholesterol in our body is not ideal (see below), and we have a certified case of "high cholesterol," we have a greater chance of getting coronary heart disease, in which plaque, a delightful substance composed of cholesterol, fat, calcium, and other substances, builds up in the arteries, hardens, and restricts the amount of blood flowing to the heart (this phase is also known as atherosclerosis). Blood clots can also form from this plaque, which could block the flow of blood and possibly cause a heart attack which, if not treated immediately, could lead to death.
Good Vs. Bad Cholesterol: Explained.
Remember just above, where we learned that cholesterol is in every cell of the body? Cholesterol is delivered via the bloodstream in lipoproteins, which come in two forms: LDL (low-density lipoprotein) and HDL (high-density lipoprotein).
You may recognize HDL as the so called "good" cholesterol, whereas LDL is the less popular evil twin (the "bad" cholesterol). It is a high level of LDL cholesterol that leads to the buildup of plaque in the arteries (described above), and puts us at risk for heart disease. HDL, on the other hand, carries cholesterol back to the liver, which is the organ responsible for removing excess cholesterol from the body.
Indeed, the National Heart, Blood, and Lung Institute provides a simple equation for how good and bad cholesterol leads to health problems: "The higher the level of LDL cholesterol in your blood, the GREATER your chance is of getting heart disease. The higher the level of HDL cholesterol in your blood, the LOWER your chance is of getting heart disease."
Got it. But how do we get more HDL and less LDL?
Some people have high blood cholesterol because their family does. Familial hypercholesterolemia, for example, is a condition that begins at birth and causes very high LDL cholesterol levels, so that some people with the condition suffer heart attacks at an early age.
In addition to the genetic (bad) luck of the draw, our gender and age may influence our likelihood for high cholesterol.
Men tend to have lower levels of HDL cholesterol (the good kind) than women, and women usually have lower LDL cholesterol than men -- before the age of 55. After the mighty 55, women's levels of LDL seem to raise higher than men's.
So much for the way we were born and how that affects our cholesterol.
Fortunately, there are several lifestyle choices we can make to keep our cholesterol at a healthy balance, and to counteract any of those factors stacked against us. Being overweight, for example, often raises the level of LDL and lowers HDL, thereby increasing total cholesterol. Regular exercise would not only help you to lose weight, but may also lower your LDL cholesterol and raise the HDL -- all very good things for your heart and its future.
And then there is what we eat. In addition to the cholesterol we carry around with us constantly, we can add to our supply by eating certain foods. Cholesterol is found in foods from animals, such as meat, cheese, and egg yolks, as well as in some kinds of fats, such as saturated fats and trans fatty acids.
Check out the list below of foods with extraordinary amounts of cholesterol that you should avoid if you're worried about high cholesterol, as discovered by experts from around the world.
1. Just Say No To Refined Grains: Choose Whole Grains Instead.
Refined grains have played an important role in this American life of ours: what would our childhoods have been without Wonderbread, frozen waffles, or frozen bagels?
Unfortunately, usually these foods are made with refined grains instead of whole grains, which means that the grains have been milled and stripped of the bran, germ, fiber, and other nutrients that remain in whole grains.
But research from Switzerland has found that not only do we lose all of those healthy parts of the grain when it is refined, but by eating refined grains instead of whole we may be increasing our risk for high LDL cholesterol.
In 2010, Alastair Ross and a large team of experts at the Nestle Research Center in Lausanne, Switzerland, compared how refined grains affected cholesterol in comparison with whole grains in 17 "healthy subjects."
Participants ate one of two diets for two weeks, on either end of a five week "washout period." Both diets were the same except for 150 grams of whole grains each day, or the same amount of refined grains. Results showed that two weeks of eating whole grains decreased LDL cholesterol when compared with the refined grain diet.
There is a silver lining to this cloud of gloom that has spread over our childhood memories of refined grains.
Most of the time, with some careful checking of packages and food labels, we can find our favorite foods in whole grain versions. Brown rice, for example, is an easy switch for white rice, as are buckwheat pancakes instead of original, and whole wheat bread instead of that bright white stuff.
2. Common Vegetable Oil: Not a Good Seasoning for Cholesterol.