Cholesterol. Does the word scare you? It strikes fear into many of my patients when I bring it up. When too much cholesterol is in the bloodstream we need to be concerned about our heart health.
Cholesterol has important responsibilities in the body. Let’s spend time understanding why cholesterol is essential to our body and how we can create the best balance.
Cholesterol’s job in the body
Cholesterol is necessary for the formation of cell membranes and the creation of nerve cell coverings. It is also the backbone for the manufacture of steroid hormones which are necessary for vital functions.
Examples of our steroid hormones are sex hormones (female and male) and our stress hormones. The female hormones are estrogens and progesterone, and the male hormone is testosterone.
Cortisol, a steroid hormone also known as the stress hormone, is responsible for managing stressful events, regulating blood sugar levels and reducing inflammation. Finally, cholesterol is needed to produce the steroid hormone aldosterone, which balances water and salt in the body.
When do you need to make changes to your cholesterol levels?
How can you check your cholesterol levels? You can have your blood drawn. The test will come back and give you information about different types of cholesterol.
LDL cholesterol is considered the “bad cholesterol” because it puts cholesterol into the bloodstream and the organs. HDLcholesterol, in contrast, is considered “good cholesterol” because it takes cholesterol from the organs back to the liver so it can be excreted via the bowels.
The normal blood levels for LDL are between 100-129 mg/dl. Levels above 130mg/dl are considered high levels.
Normal blood levels for HDL are 60 mg/dl or above. Levels below 40 mg/dl are considered low.
How do we regulate our cholesterol levels?
Eat more plant-based foods. Yes, that's right. Eat more fruits, vegetables, whole grains, nuts, seeds, beans and legumes. You can have a tremendously delicious diet that contains these foods.
When you have a salad, have you every considered adding strawberries or oranges to sweeten it up? What about adding beans to your favorite chili recipe? Sautéing onions, bell peppers or mushrooms with olive oil is a great start for any main course.
Increasing your consumption of plant-based foods and eating animal-based foods in moderation a few times per week can substantially improve cholesterol levels in three to six months.
Plant-based foods contain soluble fiber. This is especially true for lentils and beans, oats in many different forms, apples, oranges, pears, strawberries, most types of nuts, flaxseeds, blueberries, psyllium, cucumbers, celery, and carrots. Soluble fiber binds to cholesterol in the digestive system and pulls it out of the body, creating normal levels in the blood.
When my patients have high cholesterol levels I always tell them this is an opportunity to dial up the flavors of their foods to improve their taste buds and their hearts too.