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Lowering Cholesterol Tips
Cholesterol is a sterol (a combination steroid and alcohol) and a lipid found in the cell membranes of all body tissues, and transported in the blood plasma of all animals.
Cholesterol is a white, waxy substance usually present in all healthy cell membranes. It is essential in production of most of the hormones. Liver produces major portion of the cholesterol in the body.
Most cholesterol is not dietary in origin; it is synthesized internally. Cholesterol is present in higher concentrations in tissues which either produce more or have more densely-packed membranes, for example, the liver, spinal cord and brain, and also in atheroma. Cholesterol plays a central role in many biochemical processes, but is best known for the association of cardiovascular disease with various lipoprotein cholesterol transport patterns and high levels of cholesterol in the blood.
Here we attempt to explain what cholesterol is, its causes, risks and how to lower it.
Last Updated - 13th July 2006
Cholesterol is required to build and maintain cell membranes; it makes the membrane's fluidity - degree of viscosity - stable over wider temperature intervals (the hydroxyl group on cholesterol interacts with the phosphate head of the membrane, and the bulky steroid and the hydrocarbon chain is embedded in the membrane). Some research indicates that cholesterol may act as an antioxidant. Cholesterol also aids in the manufacture of bile (which helps digest fats), and is also important for the metabolism of fat soluble vitamins, including vitamins A, D, E and K. It is the major precursor for the synthesis of vitamin D, of the various steroid hormones, including cortisol and aldosterone in the adrenal glands, and of the sex hormones progesterone, estrogen, and testosterone. Further recent research shows that cholesterol has an important role for the brain synapses as well as in the immune system, including protecting against cancer.
Recently, cholesterol has also been implicated in cell signaling processes, where it has been suggested that it forms lipid rafts in the plasma membrane. It also reduces the permeability of the plasma membrane to proton and sodium ions.
Primary causes of high blood cholesterol
- A diet rich in saturated fats that are found in animal products like meat, chicken, eggs and dairy
- Hereditary factors
- Decrease in efficiency of liver functioning caused by many reasons like stress, caffeine, sedentary lifestyle, smoking, alcohol and high body weight
- Hormonal problems like thyroid gland functioning below par
The problems caused by cholesterol
When excessive amounts of cholesterol are deposited in the arterial walls, they go on narrowing and hardening. After some time, the blood supply to the heart decreases. Your chances of suffering from heart disease like angina and heart attacks as well as stroke increase.
Different types of cholesterol
Cholesterol consists of two main types: one offers protection against heart problems while the other is responsible for it. Proteins are the carriers of the cholesterol in the blood. Hence both of them together are called lipoproteins.
High density lipoproteins (HDL) move the cholesterol away from artery walls. They prevent heart disease and hence are called “good”.
Low density lipoproteins (LDL) deposit the cholesterol on the artery walls. In long run, this can cause blockage, giving rise to heart problems. Hence it is called “bad”. Ensure your LDL level is low.
Foods that contain cholesterol
Liver produces cholesterol from the saturated fats present in your diet. Hence, ensure that your diet is low in saturated fat.
The main foods rich in cholesterol are:
- Fatty meats and full-fat dairy products
- Certain foods like prawns have high cholesterol but are low in saturated fat. Though you need to keep your dietary cholesterol in check, it is not as important as minimizing the intake of saturated fats
Foods to avoid or minimize:
- Milk and milk products like cream, butter, cheeses and ice-cream
- Some varieties of vegetable fats like palm oil or vegetable shortenings and margarines
- Fried or roasted food containing fat or oil
- Processed foods laden with saturated fats like cakes, biscuits, puddings etc.
- Alcohol intake should not exceed 2 drinks a week or go for low-alcohol drinks.
- Eggs eat maximum three a week
- Sugar and refined flour
Diet tips to lower cholesterol:
- Eat more fiber rich foods that raise your HDL like wholegrain breads, cereals, brown rice and wholegrain pasta
- Eat vegetables like potatoes and yam without peeling
- Add wholegrain rolled oats to porridge or muesli or oat bran to breakfast cereals
- Eat fresh fruits and vegetables rich in antioxidants and vitamin C as raw, lightly cooked or as salads
- Go for lean cuts of meats or low-fat mincemeat, skinned poultry, or fish to lower LDL
- Remove the skin on poultry
- Grill, bake, boil or steam the foods
- Eat dairy foods sparingly
- Choose low-fat or reduced-fat yoghourt, cheese, milk and other dairy products
- Switch over to soy milk and soy beans, tofu and soy ice-cream
- Choose low fat and low sugar versions of ice-cream over regular ice-cream.
- For dessert, eat fruit-based jellies and sorbets
- Avoid coconut cream and milk which contain a lot of saturated fats, that raise LDL
- Become vegetarian
- Include beans, lentils, chickpeas, soybeans, tofu and tempeh in your diet as they are free from cholesterol but high in fiber.
- Go for quiches free from pastry and lasagna recipes containing ricotta, cottage, or quark cheeses
- Cook in monounsaturated oils and margarines like olive and canola, these raise HDL levels
- Do not use butter if not needed or go for the minuscule amount of unsalted butter
- Reduce consumption of polyunsaturated oils like sunflower, safflower, corn, soy, and nut oils. Though they lower LDL level, they can also lower HDL
- If you want to enjoy takeaway, go for dishes like stir-fried Asian dishes that use least amount of frying.
- Go for low-fat versions of mayonnaises, soups, sauces, and salad dressings
More tips to lower cholesterol
- Exercise for 30 minutes a day
- Do not take unnecessary stress.
- Reduce the intake of tea, coffee, chocolate drinks and colas
- Give up smoking to increase the level of good HDL
- Keep your body weight normal
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