Cholesterol can be tricky to understand. Too much cholesterol is bad for you, but some cholesterol is actually beneficial. Cholesterol can both cause and prevent heart attacks. Although cholesterol can be confusing, it is important to understand it so that you can help make it work for you rather than against you.
Our bodies actually need cholesterol, and some forms are good for us to help prevent heart attacks. As with many things in life, however, too much of a good thing can be bad. Such is the case with cholesterol. Cholesterol is divided between the bad (LDL) and the good (HDL). Too much LDL can build up along the arteries that bring blood to your brain and heart, which is the cause of heart attacks and strokes. HDL, though, will carry cholesterol away from the arteries and back to your liver, according to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.
The body’s liver produces most of the cholesterol we have, but we get some cholesterol by the foods we eat. We can control our cholesterol levels somewhat by eating the right foods. The key to controlling cholesterol by diet is to choose the right type of fats, according to the Harvard School of Public Health. We want to eat good fats, monounsaturated and polyunsaturated, and avoid bad fats, trans and saturated fats.
Some Fat is Good
You should not try to eliminate all fat from your diet. Fat provides energy and can help cool down inflammation, according to the Harvard School of Public Health. Good monounsaturated fats are in canola, peanut and olive oils. They are also in almonds, hazelnuts, pecans, pumpkin seeds and sesame seeds. Good polyunsaturated fats are in sunflower, corn, soybean and flaxseed oils. Omega-3 fats are particularly important to eat because the body can’t make them. You can find omega-3 fats in fish, which you should eat two or three times a week. Omega-3 fats are also in flax seeds and walnuts.
You should keep saturated fats as low as possible, because the body produces enough of those on its own. Saturated fats are in red meat and whole milk dairy products. Coconut and palm oil contain saturated fat, too. But, saturated fats are not as bad as trans fats, which are made by heating and processing vegetable oil. Called partially hydrogenated vegetable oil, this processed oil withstands heat without breaking down, so restaurants and fast-food places use it. You will also find it in commercially prepared baked goods, margarines, snack and processed foods, french fries and other fried foods, according to the Harvard School of Public Health. Trans fats cause heart disease, stroke, diabetes and other chronic conditions. Even small amounts can be harmful. Trans fats should be eliminated completely from a healthy diet. To put this in perspective, if you were to get only 2 percent of your calories from trans fat every day, which is like eating a medium order of french fries every day, you would increase your risk of heart disease by 23 percent, according to the Harvard School of Public Health. If you simply can’t get the trans fat number to zero, keep it under 2 g a day.
How Often to Check
You should have your cholesterol checked by your doctor or a cholesterol-screening center every five years after you turn 20, according to the American Heart Association. If you are in certain situations, you may need it checked more often, such as if your total cholesterol is 200 mg or more, you are a man older than 45 or a woman older than 50, or if you have other risk factors for heart attack or stroke.
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