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Resources > Nutrient Facts > Dietary Cholesterol
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Cholesterol Facts

What is cholesterol?
How is cholesterol used in the body?
How much cholesterol do I need in my diet?
Which foods contain large amounts of cholesterol?
Are there ways to improve blood cholesterol levels?
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What is cholesterol?

Cholesterol is a fatty, waxy substance that is transported throughout the body in the blood stream.  The liver produces around 75% of the cholesterol in the body while the remaining 25% comes from the foods that we eat.

There are two main types of cholesterol found in the body: Low-Density Lipoprotein (LDL) and High-Density Lipoprotein (HDL).

LDL cholesterol carries cholesterol from the liver to other parts of the body.  It has a tendency of accumulating on the walls of blood vessels.  Over time, this accumulation can cause a narrowing of the blood vessels – a process known as atherosclerosis.  This process is a leading cause of death and can cause major medical complications like stroke, chest pain, heart attacks, and severe leg pain.  Since LDL cholesterol can wreak havoc on the body, it has been nicknamed “bad cholesterol”.

HDL cholesterol carries cholesterol to the liver where it is broken down.  As a result, it helps to counteract the effects of LDL cholesterol.  It comes as no surprise that HDL cholesterol has been nicknamed “good cholesterol”.

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How is cholesterol used in the body?

Cholesterol is used to form cell membranes, vitamin D, and some of our body’s hormones.  While it performs an important role in our body, health problems arise when too much “bad” cholesterol accumulates.

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How much cholesterol do I need in my diet?

None. Our body produces all of the cholesterol that we need.  Most health organizations recommend consuming no more than 300mg of cholesterol daily.  Some organizations (including the National Cholesterol Education Program) prefer the more conservative limit of 200mg.

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Which foods contain large amounts of cholesterol?

Dietary cholesterol is only present in food from animal sources.  Foods containing large amounts of cholesterol include egg yolks, red meat, poultry, dairy products, and seafood.

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Are there ways to improve blood cholesterol levels?

Fats
Research indicates that blood cholesterol levels are more affected by the types of fats consumed than by the amount of dietary cholesterol consumed. The table below outlines the effects of certain fats on cholesterol levels.

Fat TypeEffect
Trans Fatty Acids (“trans fats”)Very negative: Increases LDL & decreases HDL
Saturated FatsNegative: Increases LDL & HDL
Polyunsaturated FatsPositive: Increase HDL & decreases LDL
Monounsaturated FatsPositive: Increase HDL & decreases LDL

As you can see trans fatty acids perform a negative double-whammy by increasing bad cholesterol and decreasing good cholesterol.

Fiber
There are also foods which may help lower bad cholesterol within the blood.  Such items include whole grains (wheat bread, oat bran, and oatmeal), nuts (walnuts, almonds), vegetables (Brussels sprouts), and fruits (apples, pears, prunes).  You may notice that most of these foods are relatively high in fiber.  Soluble fiber binds to cholesterol in our intestines and prevents the body from absorbing it.  Therefore, more cholesterol is excreted and less stays within the body.

Exercise
Studies have indicated that exercise may increase HDL, or ‘good’, cholesterol levels in the body, which lowers your risk for heart disease.  The positive effects of exercise are more pronounced when the exercise activity is performed regularly at a longer and more intense pace.  Endurance activities such as brisk walking, jogging, cycling and swimming are great ways to help keep good cholesterol levels up.

Medication
Powerful medications called statins are now taken by millions of people to lower their LDL levels and increase their HDL levels.  These are used when diet and exercise alone aren’t enough.

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