Why is cholesterol important for your health?
Cholesterol is a waxy substance that is measured in the fat of your blood. You can’t live without cholesterol, nor would you want to. Cholesterol is important for healthy cell membranes, producing hormones (no cholesterol means no sex drive), vitamin D levels, and your memory. In fact, cholesterol is so important for your health, that your body actually makes all the cholesterol it needs.
Although cholesterol is vital for your health, having levels that are too high is still considered a major risk factor for heart disease and heart attacks. When your levels are higher than what your body can handle, research suggests that small amounts of cholesterol, called plaque, can adhere to the inside of your blood vessels which can restrict blood flow and put you at risk for a heart attack or stroke.
What are healthy levels of cholesterol?
Your cholesterol count is a measurement of both high-density lipoprotein (HDL) and low-density lipoprotein (LDL). HDL is considered the “good” cholesterol because it picks up cholesterol to take out of your body. You want to strive for an HDL level greater than 40 mg/dL, preferably above 60 mg/dL. LDL is considered the “bad” cholesterol because it transports cholesterol through your body. You want to strive for an LDL level less than 130 mg/dL, preferably lower than 100 mg/dL. The American Heart Association also recommends keeping your total cholesterol level lower than 200 mg/dL.
How can you lower cholesterol naturally?
One of the best ways to lower overall cholesterol is to eat more fruits, vegetables and whole grain foods that are rich in soluble fiber. High fiber foods such oats and oatmeal can be part of a cholesterol-lowering diet, but fruits and vegetables are just as important. If you’ve ever left a fruit smoothie sitting on the table too long, you will notice it gets thick and gelled. That is soluble fiber working. Soluble fiber is like a sponge and in your stomach it absorbs bile, which has excreted by your liver to help with digestion. The bile and soluble fiber is then excreted through your feces. Once removed, your liver has to take more cholesterol out of your blood to make more bile, thus reducing your blood levels of cholesterol.
Eating less saturated fat from animal sources and avoiding trans-fats, or hydrogenated vegetable oils can help keep your cholesterol levels down. Instead, eat more mono-unsaturated fatty acids found in fish (rich omega-3 fatty acids), walnuts, almonds, avocados, and olive oil. Drinking a glass of wine daily can help increase your good cholesterol (HDL) a bit too, as can increasing exercise.
What are other risk factors for heart disease?
Risk factors that you can’t change are your age. The risk of heart disease increases for men over 45, and women over 55. You also can’t change your family history. But risk factors that you can change are:
- Diabetes or High Blood Sugar
- Physical Inactivity
- High Blood Pressure
- High Cholesterol
- High Triglyceride Levels
Adding more soluble fiber into your diet is easy with great fruit smoothie recipes found on our previous fruit smoothie blogs.
Adding a delicious bowl of oatmeal for breakfast, topped with some fresh apples, cinnamon and low-fat milk is another easy way. For more complete information about reducing your cholesterol naturally through diet and other lifestyle factors, download this free booklet from National Institute of Health called Therapeutic Life Changes.