The Myth of Bad Cholesterol & Good Cholesterol

Posted: September 3, 2014 in Blog, Food, Nutrition
fake heart toy on a diagram

You can’t live without cholesterol. Why? It helps your body perform three main functions that are essential to life:

  1. Build & Maintain Cell Membranes: Cholesterol is part of every cell in your body. Its most important role is to maintain the consistency of cell membranes so they function properly.
  2. Digest Food: Cholesterol is used to make bile, which helps your body digest food and the nutrients it contains.
  3. Produce Vitamin D & Hormones: In addition to vitamin D, which helps keep your bones and teeth strong, cholesterol is used in the production of essential steroid hormones, including estrogen and testosterone.

That’s it. Cholesterol is not bad for you and living would be impossible without it. Cholesterol is so important, your body makes sure to produce all the cholesterol it needs.

But you also get cholesterol from the food you eat. And that’s where the problems, and myths, begin.

Cholesterol’s Bad Reputation

The root of cholesterol’s image problem lies in the fact that it is not water soluble. That means it can’t be dissolved in your bloodstream.

Instead, cholesterol needs to be carried by lipoproteins through your bloodstream to all your cells. As their name suggests, lipoproteins are a combination of fat (lipids) and protein. Two types of lipoproteins do the job of ferrying cholesterol back and forth:

Cholesterol problems start when you have an imbalance of LDL and HDL in your body. If you consume too much LDL, it starts delivering more cholesterol than your cells need.

Because it is ‘programmed’ to deliver cholesterol, LDL continues to do so even if no more cholesterol is needed in your cells. LDL dumps any extra cholesterol in your arteries. Being insoluble, the dumped cholesterol can build-up to the point of causing a blockage, which can lead to heart disease.

Luckily, HDL picks up excess cholesterol from your arteries. So, a simple way to combat high cholesterol levels is to eat a diet that lowers LDL and raises HDL. Exercise also raises HDL levels.

Knowing which foods can help you control your cholesterol levels, while maintaining proper nutrition, is important to ensuring that you minimize your risk of heart disease. The professional nutrition counselor at your local Herbal One Weight Management Nutrition Centre is ready to help you get started.