A questions from Vivian of Corona
“I have noticed that lots of foods say low cholesterol. What is cholesterol and why is this important? And should I only eat low cholesterol foods?”
Cholesterol is a natural substance manufactured in the body and consumed in foods. As you might already know, blood cholesterol is typically monitored by your doctor during regular visits. The process of monitoring your cholesterol is done through blood testing. There are different types of cholesterol. The most commonly talked about are LDL (low-density lipids) and HDL (high density lipids). Why are these so important? Cholesterol levels, when elevated and out of balance are considered a warning sign of cardiovascular disease. Typically a good blood value level is considered to be 200 or less for total cholesterol. The LDL cholesterol is considered to the ‘bad’ guy, while HDL cholesterol is considered to be the ‘good’ guy. LDL and HDL cholesterol is manufactured in your body for various reasons. These include hormone production, lipid (fat) transport, cell membrane, vitamin D production and many other reasons. LDL cholesterol is a carrier of fats to cells but can, under certain conditions, deposit fat into arteries causing plaque buildup. Elevated LDL cholesterol is also strongly linked to cardiovascular disease. Certain foods elevate LDL cholesterol including trans-fats, saturated fats and cholesterol to a lesser extent. The most dominant in this area is trans fats (found in baked goods like cakes, cookies, doughnuts, and hydrogenated margarines and oils), and saturated foods (typically animal foods including eggs, meats and milk). Some saturated fats (such as coconut and palm oils) have a much lower effect on blood cholesterol and cholesterol levels overall. The amount of cholesterol recommended to be consumed daily is 300mg. Saturated fat total is suggested to be10% of total calories so a 2000 calorie diet would have 20 grams total. So what is a low cholesterol food product? A low cholesterol food contains 20 milligrams or less per serving of cholesterol while having 2 grams or less of saturated/trans fats. Cholesterol free foods have less than 2 milligrams of cholesterol and 2 grams or less of saturated/trans fats. Less cholesterol foods have 25% or less cholesterol and 2 grams or less saturated/ trans fats total than the comparison food(s) (ie cookies with ‘Less Cholesterol’ compared to another product that has higher cholesterol). Also, please remember that including healthy fats in your diet helps in the equation of balanced HDL/LDL cholesterol. Good heart healthy fats include monounsaturated fats from avocadoes, flaxseeds, olive and peanut oils. Omega 3 fats are beneficial in helping to maintain good HDL cholesterol balance. These fats are found in fish (mackerel, salmon and sardines being most abundant), flaxseed, canola oil and walnuts being a good starting place. Omega three fats help to lower triglycerides (linked to high LDL), while having many heart protective factors as well. Fat balance is the biggest thing to remember for your diet. Foods that have fats are needed and are essential but having an abundance of bad fats including too much cholesterol is where problems can start.
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- Whitney, Understanding Normal and Clinical Nutrition, Wadsworth Cengage Learning, Belmount CA. 2012 pg. 57, 151-3
- Murray N.D., The Encyclopedia of Natural Medicine third ed., Atria New York, NY. 2012. Pg. 680