In our minds, high blood cholesterol levels are associated with obesity, narrowing of the lumen of blood vessels, high blood pressure, and an increased likelihood of getting a heart attack or stroke. The liver of our own body produces two-thirds of the lipid called cholesterol, and about a third comes from foods containing cholesterol. The name of lipid comes from a combination of Greek words chole and stereo, that is, solid bile. Several foods can be the major cause of high cholesterol. But what are the worst foods for high cholesterol?
What is Cholesterol?
Cholesterol is fat that plays an important role in the functioning of the body. It is a lipid that helps in building all cells in the body. It is necessary for the normal functioning of the nervous and immune systems to produce vitamin D, several females and male sex hormones. Hence the conclusion – the body needs cholesterol! The only question is its quantity.
Normal blood cholesterol counts up to 5 mmol/L. And if cholesterol becomes more, then it settles on the vessel’s walls and leads to the formation of atherosclerotic plaques. And as you can tell, vascular atherosclerosis is the origin of coronary heart disease, heart attacks, cerebrovascular disease, strokes, and many other ailments.
Components of Cholesterol.
Cholesterol is a very heterogeneous substance. Its two components are the most important:
- High-density lipoproteins (HDL) or “good” Cholesterol. These molecules do not settle on the vessel walls and, on the contrary, contribute to their purification. The more HDL, the better. Normal HDL levels in women are above one mmol/L, and for men, above 1.2 mmol/L.
- Low-density lipoproteins (LDL) or “bad” cholesterol. It is this fraction of cholesterol that leads to the formation of atherosclerotic plaques. It upsurges the risk of heart attack or ischemic stroke, as well as other cardiovascular complications. In women, the normal LDL level is less than 2.5 mmol/L; in men – less than two mmol/L.
A contradictory opinion.
There is a misconception that the lower the blood cholesterol level, the better. In fact, this is not the case. Lipoproteins (also known as cholesterol with a protein compound) play an important role in the human body. Cholesterol fractions in the human body should be normal, with a balance between good and bad lipoproteins. The human body has both “bad” cholesterol – low-density lipoproteins and “good” cholesterol – high-density lipoproteins.
“Bad” Cholesterol makes us disabled. “Good” Cholesterol helps us by removing excess fat from the body. It partakes in the synthesis of hormones and is a building material for cell membranes.
However, our body needs it at a very small level for this purpose, less than 1.3-1.8 mmol/L. It is with this level of cholesterol that a person is born.
But over time, malnutrition, physical inactivity, smoking, poor ecology, and stress do their dirty work, and by the age of 18-20, lipid spots appear in the vessels of practically healthy people. And by the age of 40-45, atherosclerotic plaques are formed. Atherosclerosis develops, resulting in heart attack, stroke, and intermittent claudication.
What are the dangers of high levels of cholesterol in the blood?
Our lifestyle and diet influence high levels of cholesterol in the blood: if rich in certain foods, it can lead to a worsening of the situation.
For years, the measurement of blood cholesterol levels has been used to assess a possible cardiovascular risk. Cholesterol is a lipid molecule produced by all animal organisms.
In humans, the liver mainly produces it and transports it to the blood or brain or uses it for bile production.
The cholesterol in the blood is not free, as they are not water-soluble but tied to the lipoproteins, divided into HDL, LDL, and VLDL, respectively, high-density lipoprotein, low-density lipoproteins, and lipoprotein with very low density.
LDL represents the cardiovascular risk factor, which has the task of transporting cholesterol from the liver to the body’s cells, passing through the arteries. If oxidized, these proteins can give rise to the atheromatous plaque responsible for arteriosclerosis, a pathology that can cause thrombosis and interruption of blood flow. The HDL lipoproteins act oppositely with respect to LDL lipoproteins, bringing the molecules of cholesterol from arteries to the liver.
Cholesterol is a vital molecule for humans to form some hormones and vitamin D. Furthermore, it is the forerunner of bile acids. It is involved in the formation and repair of all cell membranes.
It follows that only too high LDL cholesterol levels can represent an alarm signal, to be evaluated necessarily together with your doctor, who can prescribe in-depth investigations where he deems it appropriate.
Food and Cholesterol.
As we said initially, cholesterol is a molecule produced by all animals. Some foods, therefore, contain moderate quantities. However, the cholesterol we take in through food represents a small percentage compared to the cholesterol we produce independently.
Particularly, our body produces about 1 gram of cholesterol per day, starting from carbohydrates. Furthermore, it is important to underline that its formation requires an enzyme whose activation depends on insulin.
A healthy and balanced diet, an adequate dose of physical activity (over 150 minutes/week), and the recovery of optimal body weight are necessary to restore optimal cholesterol levels and should be the first therapeutic choice. Pharmacological treatment will thus be an option only in the event that the correct diet is not sufficient.
Foods to avoid with High Cholesterol.
Here are the amazing foods that experts say are the real culprits of the cholesterol increase. Now let’s see specifically what foods to avoid to improve your cholesterol levels.
1. Simple sugars.
As we have seen, our cholesterol production depends on insulin levels. An excess of simple sugars in the diet links to an increase in blood sugar and, therefore, insulin. So, one must avoid them.
2. Pasta, rice, refined cereals, bread, and pizza.
All foods made from cereals or refined flour have a high glycemic index. The increase in blood glucose leads to an increase in insulin production by the pancreas. The production of insulin activates the enzyme that leads to the production of endogenous cholesterol. We, therefore, recommend choosing whole-grain cereals for preparing meals and remembering to take the daily amount of carbohydrates through the optimal intake of fruit and vegetables.
Caffeine has been associated with an increase in serum cortisol. Therefore, the abuse of coffee is not recommended, although studies are conflicting, and there is no univocal opinion on the matter. In this regard, we recommend never consuming more than three cups of coffee a day, possibly in the first part of the day.
4. Milk and yogurt.
Dairy products, especially whole ones, contain a fair amount of animal fats and cholesterol. They also have a high insulinemic index: in practice, they stimulate insulin production even in the absence of hyperglycemia. On the other hand, lean dairy products contain a greater quantity of added sugars, linked to the problems described above.
5. Animal fats such as cream, lard, and butter.
Among the foods to avoid with high cholesterol, we find those rich in fat, such as butter, lard, or cream. These products comprise a high amount of fat and cholesterol. They are high-calorie foods that, if consumed in excess, contribute to weight gain, an additional cardiovascular risk factor, especially when associated with hypercholesterolemia.
6. Innards such as liver and brain.
These products, rich in many nutrients, also contain high amounts of cholesterol, which we have seen accumulate in these two organs. Therefore, in the case of hypercholesterolemia, it is advisable to avoid or reduce these foods.
7. Fatty-cured meats.
In the case of high cholesterol, we recommend limiting foods such as cured meats, especially fatty ones, and rather choosing products that allow you to eliminate visible fat, such as raw ham.
8. Alcoholic beverages.
Alcohol should be limited in case of hypercholesterolemia, even more so if blood triglycerides are also high.
In the case of high cholesterol, it would be better to eliminate cheeses, especially fatty ones, as they are rich in cholesterol. We recommend replacing them with leaner cheeses, which nevertheless have a high insulin index. Therefore, the consumption of cheeses, in general, must be limited.
10. Egg and packaged products containing eggs.
The eggs, especially the yolk, contain a high amount of cholesterol. In hypercholesterolemia, it is advisable to limit the number of eggs eaten weekly and, therefore, limit the consumption of baked goods containing this ingredient. In fact, baked goods contain flour with a high glycemic index, which would worsen the situation. However, remember not to completely ban the consumption of eggs in case of high cholesterol.
An unhealthy diet is believed to often influence the increase in the level of cholesterol in blood vessels. How should you eat to lower this level?
Junk food sooner or later leads us to weight gain and obesity. You can pave the alley to a healthy heart with tasty and healthy food. And to the patient – fatty, fried, smoked, and baked goods.
The principles of healthy eating are pretty simple. Here are some tips:
- Cooking – boiling, stewing, baking and grilling, cook only in vegetable oil or without oil on dishes with a special coating, and use plain yogurt for dressing salads.
- Exclude meat (pork and fatty beef), by-products (liver, kidneys, heart, brains), all sausages, bacon, butter, sour cream, mayonnaise, salt (no more than 5 g per day – 1 teaspoon, without top), hard cheeses and margarine, fatty milk and cottage cheese, egg yolks, cakes, pastries, ice cream, and desserts.
- Exclude alcohol.
- In the diet, use cereals, low-fat dairy products, vegetable soups, fish, including fatty, meat – veal, turkey, chicken, young lamb (no visible fat and skin) no more than 90 g per day in boiled form, egg white, sunflower, corn, olive, soybean, linseed oil, fresh and frozen vegetables, nuts, popsicles, jelly, marmalade, tea, black coffee, and soft drinks.
In addition, you need to try to eliminate stress from your life. We absolutely do not know how to take care of ourselves and take care of our nervous system. It will help if you learn how to constructively deal with emerging problems, change unhealthy ways of responding to problems, and prioritize your peace of mind.
But after all, not all excess cholesterol comes from food; our body produces most of it.
Therefore, in order to bring it back to normal, in addition to following a diet, you need to drink pills. Currently, new drugs have been created that allow regular intake and adherence to the doctor’s recommendations for changing the lifestyle and effectively and safely control the level of blood pressure, cholesterol, creatinine (an indicator of effective kidney function), and blood glucose.
Modern medicines work wonders; today, they help cure previously considered fatal diseases. These drugs allow you to prolong your quality of life while maintaining the ability to work and travel.
Do not believe the myths about a large number of side effects, the huge cost of treatment, dependence on pills, and the development of impotence. The studies carried out in Europe and the USA have been completed, confirming the 100% ineffectiveness of dietary supplements and multivitamin preparations in preventing cardiovascular diseases.
Currently, statins are the leaders in the treatment of atherosclerosis. Leading cardiologists believe that statins in treating atherosclerosis are the same as antibiotics in treating pneumonia.
In conclusion, therefore, healthy nutrition is one of the best ways to decrease blood cholesterol levels, especially if associated with a correct lifestyle. A nutritional visit that ends with the development of a personalized meal plan can be the correct choice to improve your pathology.
Exercising regularly at medium-high intensity is the best option. In fact, some studies have revealed that exercising for less than 120 minutes a week does not increase HDL cholesterol (a positive factor) as it does when the weekly workout is longer.
If you decide to seriously and, therefore, take a constructive approach to maintain your health, you need to visit the doctor and undergo simple examinations to identify risk factors.
Finally, it is important not to smoke as smoking lowers HDL cholesterol levels, thus increasing the risk of developing cardiovascular diseases.