Whether we read about it online or have been told by our doctor, many of us know that too much cholesterol is a bad thing, but also that there's good cholesterol and bad cholesterol. But…Why, exactly? What does it all mean? And what foods should you be eating and avoiding?
After all, if you don't understand the practical application, then the terms HDL, LDL, ans VLDL are just…floating around.
What is cholesterol?
You've probably seen cholesterol depicted in diagrams as this gross yellow goo that attaches onto your artery walls, and could eventually cause a heart attack. This might have led you to wonder, why and how does the body produce the stuff in the first place? Because, it's true that cholesterol is actually something your body requires, a waxy goo that the body itself produces!
So what gives? Why does our body need to make a substance that clogs our arteries?
Well, our cholesterol is necessary to build cell walls, produce vitamin D that the body makes itself, and even to help the body make hormones! So I guess we can forgive the whole artery thing! But what would make it a lot easier to forgive would be, knowing how we can control and reduce the bad cholesterol, while getting more of the good. If only there was someone around who could help us do that…(Me!!)
First off, I'm going to assume you know that high-density lipoproteins, HDL, is the good stuff, low-density lipoproteins, LDL, is the bad stuff…but you don't know why, they're just acronyms.
Well, the reason we even have these two groups in the first place is that cholesterol and fat don't mix in our blood. But in order for our blood to flow properly, we need them to mix, so for that reason cholesterol is coated in a fat / protein coating called a lipoprotein. This lipoprotein coating helps the two to mix.
But, high density lipoproteins are the type of cholesterol responsible for carrying cholesterol out of your tissues. Low density lipoproteins are the ones responsible for carrying cholesterol into your tissues.
Like we mentioned, you need some LDL because you need some cholesterol in your tissues, but it's very easy to get an excess amount that sticks in your arteries. And that's exactly what too much LDL will cause.
Or especially its even worse and meaner older brother, VLDL, very low-density lipoproteins. The problem with VLDLs is, they tend to be smaller then LDLs, which makes them more likely to get caught in the little pockets in your arteries.
So now that you actually understand the differences between the three and some of the science there, what does that mean for your diet?
After all, some people say that saturated fat is bad because of the LDLs, but I would disagree with that. Because while scientists are still studying this, a lot of studies are showing that the lipoproteins of saturated fats are too big to really get stuck in the arteries, and what you really need to worry about are trans fats and also sugars. Please don't skimp on the avocados, olive oil, eggs, nuts, chia seeds, and fish… doing so can actually increase LDL. These foods are known to increase HDL!
Overall, like I always say, a diet that is high in veggies, maybe a bit lower in fruits because of all the sugars, and is high in healthy omega-3s is going to keep you living longer. In fact, a lot of people know this diet as the Mediterranean diet.