“A life without health is like a river without water.” Carl Jung
- To maintain our vitality, it is necessary to maintain balance in our diet. The human body is a well-oiled machine that requires fuel to run. Cholesterol is one such fuel that helps in building cells and is useful in generating fat-soluble vitamins, hormones and bile acids for the digestion of lipids. However, like a two-sided coin, cholesterol can cause many health problems too, if present in excess. High cholesterol levels in the blood may lead to blockage in the arteries and high blood pressure, which if left untreated, may lead to coronary heart disease and stroke. With cholesterol having good as well as adverse effects on our body, the question arises, how much cholesterol should one consume in a day?
What is cholesterol?
- Cholesterol is a fat-like substance that is naturally found in our body since birth. It can be categorised as good and bad cholesterol, depending on its function in the body. You may wonder, “How can cholesterol be good or bad?” Simply put, cholesterol combines with other molecules in the body. The action of the final product of this combination defines whether the cholesterol is helpful or harmful to the body.
- Good cholesterol, also known as HDL or high-density lipoprotein, carries all the bad cholesterol from the arteries back to the liver, where it is broken down and cleared out from the body. To prevent heart attack and stroke, it is necessary to have high HDL levels in the body. In contrast, low-density lipoprotein (LDL) and very low–density lipoprotein (VLDL) are bad cholesterols, which are responsible for coronary artery disease. Therefore, the level of non-HDL cholesterol in the blood can determine your risk of heart attack. Triglycerides are other lipids that contribute to hardening of the arteries, increase the risk of stroke and also cause acute inflammation of the pancreas. However, at normal levels, they store unused calories and help in energy production. Healthy levels of cholesterol and triglycerides can be easily maintained by adopting a healthy lifestyle and proper eating habits.
The optimum levels of lipids in the bloodstream are as follows:
|TYPE OF LIPID||OPTIMUM LEVELS|
|Age ≤19 years||Men age ≥20 years||Women age ≥20 year|
|LDL||<100 mg/dL||<100 mg/dL||<100 mg/dL|
|HDL||>45 mg/dL||>40 mg/dL||>50 mg/dL|
|Total Cholesterol||<170 mg/dL||125-200 mg/dL||125-200 mg/dL|
How much cholesterol is healthy?
- Cholesterol is naturally produced in the body by the liver and also obtained from food items. The dietary intake of cholesterol should be less than 300 mg per day. The fat in our food, which is the primary source of lipids, may be saturated, trans or unsaturated. Saturated fat is usually present in meat and dairy products and increases bad cholesterol. Trans-fat, typically found in processed foods like chips, biscuits, etc., not only increases bad cholesterol but also lowers the good one. According to the Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2015-20, only 10% of calories should be consumed from saturated fats and added sugars, to help maintain the cholesterol levels in the body. To lower cholesterol levels in the blood, some foods that are better avoided are:
- Cake, pastry, doughnuts, cookies
- Ice-cream and dairy desserts
- Food prepared in coconut or palm oil
- Commercially fried foods
So, what should I eat?
- The main aim of a low-cholesterol diet is to reduce bad cholesterol and increase good cholesterol. A diet that is completely free of fats can lead to a deficiency of carbohydrates and impairment of nervous tissue and brain function. Food items that help maintain good cholesterol and lower the bad cholesterol are:
- FIBRE: Soluble fibre helps in maintaining cholesterol levels by binding to cholesterol in the blood and allowing it to pass out from the body via the stool. Oats, edible skins of fruit, barley and ground flaxseeds are rich sources of dietary fibre.
- NUTS: Nuts such as walnuts and almonds are a rich source of fibre and omega-3 fatty acids. They lower LDL levels and help in keeping arteries flexible. Approximately 57 g of nuts daily can show a significant change in LDL levels.
- VEGETABLE OILS: Polyunsaturated oils are healthier than saturated ones. Opt for vegetable oils such as sunflower, canola, olive or safflower oil instead of butter, ghee or margarine.
- SOYBEANS: Soy products like tofu and soymilk are rich in protein. The consumption of 25 g of protein daily can reduce 5%-6% of LDL.
- FRUITS: Pectin-rich fruits like apples, citrus fruits, grapes and strawberries can help lower cholesterol level.
- FATTY FISH: Consuming cod liver or shark liver oil provides omega-3-fatty acids that help:
- Reduce triglyceride levels
- Reduce non-HDL levels
- Prevent clot formation in arteries
- Lower blood pressure
A diet rich in fruits and veggies will not just improve your cholesterol levels, but also help maintain blood pressure and mental health. After all, precaution is always better than popping pills each day. If you want to live worry-free, consult our expert dieticians and nutritionists who will guide you to a suitable diet for your health status. Also, you can check your blood cholesterol level by visiting the HealthAssure app today for pathology labs near you. A test today will make you tension-free tomorrow.
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