Here are a few of the terms you may come across while learning about cholesterol.
If you have too much cholesterol in the blood, it will create a yellow thick substance on the lining of the blood vessels. This is known as atherosclerosis. If it continues to grow, it can block blood vessels, leading to a stroke or heart attack. This is a key risk of having high bad cholesterol levels.
Blood cholesterol is wax-like material that is made by the body. Blood cholesterol is needed to keep cells healthy, to create hormones, and to keep the body functioning. Too much, though, increases your risk of atherosclerosis.
Dietary cholesterol is the cholesterol found in some of your food. Since all animals produce cholesterol, dietary cholesterol is found in the foods that are made from animals (foods such as meat, dairy products, fish, and eggs). To stay heart-healthy, you will want to avoid eating too much dietary cholesterol.
Your cholesterol profile is a listing of your cholesterol levels. This includes your LDL, HDL, your total cholesterol, and triglycerides. Your doctor finds this information through a blood test. Your cholesterol profile helps medical professionals determine how much at risk you are for developing certain complications associated with high bad cholesterol levels.
Essential fatty acids
Your body needs fats to survive, and especially to build cells. The fats your body needs to get from the foods you eat are called essential fatty acids.
Fiber is the part of plants that cannot be digested by us. There are two types of fiber: insoluble and soluble. Both are important to health. Insoluble fiber in grains and fruits and vegetables is what keeps you “regular” and keeps your bowels in good shape.
The soluble fiber found in oats, barley, and other plants has been found to lower cholesterol levels. If you are trying to lower your cholesterol and stay healthy, eating a diet with adequate fiber can help.
High Density Lipoproteins (HDL)
This is known as the “good” cholesterol, and is generated by the liver. HDL transports cholesterol and fats to your liver from your arteries. In the liver, the fats can be broken down or recycled for your body to use.
If you have high levels of HDL, chances are your heart is healthy, since the cholesterol is being effectively transported rather than being left in your blood, where it can cause a hardening of the arteries. If you have too low levels of HDL, you may be putting your heart at risk.
These are fats you want to avoid in your diet if you want to lower bad cholesterol levels. Hydrogenated fats are fats – either polyunsaturated or monounsaturated – that have been treated with hydrogen atoms to guarantee a longer shelf life. The process of hydrogenation causes fats to become saturated fats.
These doctors specialize in the treatment of treating high blood cholesterol and related health issues. If you have very high cholesterol and traditional methods of lowering your cholesterol and risk for heart disease do not work, you may be referred to a lipid specialist for specialized treatment.
Low Density Lipoproteins (LDL)
Also called “bad cholesterol”, LDLs is manufactured by the liver. Its job it to transport fats – including cholesterol – from the liver to the areas of your body that need the fats (such as your organs, muscles, and your tissues). If your LDL levels are high, it suggests that there is plenty of cholesterol in your blood, which increases the chances of clogged arteries, which in turn in very dangerous for your heart.
These fats are liquids at room temperature. These fats are also good for you because they don’t change your HDL (good cholesterol) levels but do lower your LDL (bad cholesterol levels). Look for products that have these fats if you want to stay heart-healthy. Monosaturated fats are found in olive and canola oil.
This is actually a “family” of fatty acids that increase your good cholesterol level while lowering your bad cholesterol. This makes Omega-6 a great food source for staying healthy. You can find these fatty acids in nuts, grains, vegetables, and vegetable oils. They are part of the reason why you are likely encouraged to eat these foods in your low-cholesterol diet.
These fats are liquid at room temperature. They are a better choice than saturated fats, but they tend to lower both good and bad cholesterol levels, so they are not the best choice for good health. In small amounts, these fats may lower bad cholesterol.
Processed foods are foods that have been treated before being sold. In some cases, processed foods are treated to eliminate bacteria or make foods healthier. For example, the process of pasteurization eliminates some of the harmful elements in milk that can make us sick. Most of our foods are processed ion some way.
However, some foods are processed in order to change their taste or in order to give them a longer shelf-life. The processing that it takes to do this sometimes involves adding fats, salts and other unhealthy ingredients or involves heating the foods until some or much of the nutrient value is lost.
When choosing processed foods, it is important to choose foods that have as few detrimental ingredients as possible. In general, foods that have had more done to them (such as deli meats, potato chips, cookies, and others) and foods that are considered “fast foods” or convenience foods (such as hamburgers, prepared hors d’oeuvres, and cocktail snacks, among others) are higher in fats and salt. Read the labels of all processed foods to understand exactly what you are eating and how these foods may affect your health.
These fats are solid at room temperature. They are also the most likely to raise your bad cholesterol – in fact, they are a bigger culprit than dietary cholesterol. If you want to lower your cholesterol, avoid these fats in your food. In many cases, saturated fats come from animal proteins and products (meats, and milk products). They are also found in hydrogenated vegetable oil and in coconut and palm oil.
Trans fatty acids
These are another fat group you will want to avoid. They are hydrogenated and increase bad cholesterol while lowering good cholesterol.
Triglycerides are a fat-like cholesterol – which is transported in the blood stream. This fat is the culprit behind most of the fat in the body. Like LDL-cholesterol, it can form a thick goo and block arteries if there is too much of it in the blood.
As you lower your bad cholesterol, you will also want to keep your triglycerides low. Often, high triglycerides are caused by too much alcohol use, overeating (or being overweight) and not enough physical exercise.
Very Low Density Lipoproteins (VLDL)
These lipoproteins transport cholesterol from the liver to the body organs and tissues that need it. Studies have shown that high levels of these lipoproteins may be a risk factor for heart disease. Not all cholesterol profiles include a number for VLDLs, but if yours does, work to keep the levels low.