Cholesterol. This is the one-word people always associate with fatty foods, bad blood test results, and a higher risk for certain health problems that tend to reduce a person’s lifespan or quality of life. As bad-sounding cholesterol is, it’s not really the “villain” it’s brought up to be. In fact, cholesterol is necessary for a healthy body and is critical for a lot of everyday bodily functions.
Here are some of the little-known facts about cholesterol and why it’s not really as bad as people say it is.
Everyone knows there is the good cholesterol and the bad cholesterol, but what are they, exactly?
The bad cholesterol is low density lipoprotein or LDL. Being low density means it’s light and voluminous, which means it can easily group together and form waxy deposits known as plaques. These plaques can disrupt heart function and could progress to an actual medical diagnosis if not averted. Basically, you don’t want this high in your blood test.
Common foods that raise LDL are anything deep fried, processed foods, and too much fatty meat.
The good cholesterol is high density lipoprotein or HDL. It’s “heavier” than LDL because one of its functions is to carry excess cholesterol out of your arteries to the liver, which then is removed from the body.
Good sources of HDL include fatty fish, avocados, and flax seeds while some foods indirectly raise HDL like whole grains, legumes, and high-fiber fruits.
The body’s hormone production relies on a constant supply of cholesterol, especially testosterone. If you’re poor in cholesterol, your testosterone drops, and this causes a chain reaction that results in poor muscular development, moodiness, and problems with fertility.
The most complex organ in the body has quite a lot of cholesterol on its own. The brain stores ¼ the body’s entire supply of cholesterol and with good reason. Cholesterol is necessary for the development and protection of our nerve cells - the very thing the brain uses to communicate with the rest of the body. If you’re too low on cholesterol, your brain may not function as efficient and could cause a domino effect to the rest of the body.
Some think triglycerides are cholesterols, but triglycerides are a totally different type of fat. If cholesterol is used to build hormones and produce cells, triglycerides are what the body treats as a source of energy. Triglycerides are basically stored fat from excess caloric consumption.
Just like LDL, you also want to keep your triglyceride levels to be near the minimum or middle.
Everyone’s favorite perk-me-up has a lot of health benefits when consumed moderately (no more than 3 or 4 cups a day). However, some problems start to surface once you go beyond the moderate range.
Apart from the usual jitters, nervousness, and sleep problems you get when you have too much coffee, there’s also a risk of excess coffee increasing your cholesterol levels. This has to do with the coffee bean’s natural plant sterol content and those who drink too many shots of espresso or prefer French press over brewed get a lot of sterols. The result? Blood test showing elevated levels of cholesterol.
If you’re more of a paper filter or instant coffee type, then you’re not really at risk. The paper filter helps remove much of the plant sterols (because fat sticks to paper) and the processes involved in creating instant coffee also removes much of the “coffee fat.”
Moral of the story: Drink coffee in moderation.
Cholesterol by itself is not a bad thing. The body needs cholesterol to function and to maintain optimal health. Without cholesterol, or if we choose to extremely reduce our cholesterol intake, our body won’t be able to function normally and we’ll be prone to a lot of health problems.
As with a lot of things, cholesterol intake should be in moderation. You don’t want to miss out on it, but you also have to be careful with getting too much of it. If you’re having trouble maintaining healthy cholesterol levels, be sure to revisit your diet and see if you can remove high cholesterol-causing foods and substitute them with foods that can actually keep it to a healthy cholesterol range.
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