All Things Cholesterol: The good, the bad & the truth

“I will have a packet of cashews!“ I placed my order. My friend who had ordered a can of diet coke for herself was shocked.

“That thing is full of fat and cholesterol! Aren’t you supposed to know that?”

However, I don’t blame her. Over the years, we have been made to believe that nuts are highly loaded with fats and cholesterol.

Yes, all the nuts are naturally fat rich. But are nuts high in cholesterol? And is cholesterol really bad for us? Despite, the negative press cholesterol that this fatty substance often gets, it isn’t entirely bad for us.

Basics of cholesterol.

What is it?

Cholesterol is a substance made in the liver and it is vital to human life. Only animal bodies can produce cholesterol. Thus, you can find it ONLY in humans and animal products like meat, eggs, and dairy.

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Yes, that’s right! There is NO cholesterol in cashews, peanuts, cooking oils etc. So, the next time a cooking oil flashes the below punchline.

XYZ oil – Live healthier, live longer with our 0% cholesterol free oil

Know better to not let your eyeballs drop in the shopping mart aisle anymore.

The liver, other organs, and other cells in your body produce about 75% of the cholesterol in your blood. And, the other 25 % of cholesterol in your body is affected by the foods you eat.

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Since we eat more foods including cholesterol, our liver compensates by reducing its own production of cholesterol and removing excess cholesterol.

We have got natural processes to take care of cholesterol balance in the blood. And we totally disturb this balance and interrupt cholesterol functioning when we chose any “low fat” or “fat-free” products.

What does cholesterol do in our bodies?

Our body uses cholesterol to make a few essential hormones, including:

  • Sex hormones such as estrogen and progesterone in women, and testosterone in men, which help the sex organs develop and are involved in reproduction.
  • Cortisol, which helps your body respond to stress.
  • Aldosterone, which balances the number of minerals in your body.
  • Vitamin D, which helps your body absorb calcium to strengthen your bones.

So why exactly is cholesterol bad for us? One might think.

The levels of cholesterol in the blood are not the problem but the type of cholesterol is. Cholesterol travels in the blood in packages called lipoproteins, which consist of lipids (fats) and protein. Cholesterol packaged in low-density lipoprotein (LDL) is often called “bad” cholesterol because too much LDL in the blood can lead to cholesterol buildup and blockage in the arteries. LDL carries most of the cholesterol in the blood.

The high-density lipoprotein (HDL), often called “good” cholesterol, is another type of cholesterol package. HDL helps transport cholesterol from other parts of the body to the liver, which helps remove it from the body, preventing it from piling up in the arteries.

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The third type of lipoprotein is very low density (VLDL). This package transports triglycerides in the blood; high levels of VLDL and triglycerides can consequently lead to the risk of heart disease.

Some people with normal cholesterol levels get heart attacks while others with high levels do not—  the difference is in the levels of HDL and LDL cholesterol, their ratio and chronic inflammation in their bodies.

Inflammation and oxidation are interrelated processes. Inflammation is the body’s healthy response to injury, irritation or infection. It neutralizes harmful micro-organisms, helps repair wounds and cleans up debris. However chronic inflammation is an unhealthy condition which generates a constant supply of harmful free radicals (also called as oxidation) that panics our anti-oxidant defences.

  • We fearfully remove the full-fat milk and egg yolks; replace them with egg whites and low-fat yoghurt or fat-free butter.
  • We don’t get enough antioxidants (to fight oxidation) because we conveniently ditch the bowl of salad and a portion of fruit out of the meal plan.
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  • A biscuit packet (full of white flour and sugar) has become our go-to snack.
  • We make all possible excuses to miss the gym session or the jog outside.
  • Pulling an “all nightery” has now become the trend.

Such diet habits and lifestyle adaptations are the major components which are consequently making the cholesterol bad for your body!

Making Cholesterol good by yourself for yourself!

Don’t drink the fruit – eat it!

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Drop “juices” (canned) from your grocery list today. Because the processing takes out all the antioxidant from any fruit. And there’s a risk of toxicity due to the high dose of sugar and loads of preservatives, left in the can.

Rather have fresh and whole fruit. Minimize its contact with air and metal to maintain the antioxidant profile.

Manage your type of cholesterol!

Make sure you take dietary measures to control the bad type of cholesterol build up and increase the good type to help your body. Exercise often, eat a heart-healthy diet by including fruits, vegetables, whole grains, nuts, and oilseeds, etc., maintain a healthy body weight in order to keep your good cholesterol working in your body. Limit the intake of red meat, avoid smoking, choose leaner cuts while picking your meats, avoid organ meat and eliminate trans-fat to keep your LDL in check.

Beauty sleep!

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Sleep is the most powerful tool of our body to keep cholesterol from oxidizing. Sleep is the time when the body uses the antioxidant defence at its maximum to detoxify our body. Good sleep is a great stress manager too. So, don’t underestimate this in-built detoxification process and get your sleep cycle back on track. A good diet and enough exercise are going to be of great help to achieve your sleep goals.

Nuts: small packet of big energy!

Fun fact about cholesterol: plants cannot produce it. So naturally, any plant sources including nuts will not have any cholesterol contents. High time we shift fearlessly to our traditional snacking option- Nuts.

Peanuts, cashews, almonds, walnuts, pistachios are in fact good sources of essential fats like MUFA and PUFA. They keep our body from exposing to chronic inflammation.

Get your heart racing!

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We all know that lack of exercise is one of the major factors contributing to illnesses. Now it’s the time to put this piece of knowledge to use. Walk, jog, run, swim, cycle, yoga, pilates anything you like – Just do it! Any exercise which gets your heart racing is going to keep your heart healthy!

So, don’t be a prey to “cholesterol free/ fat-free” media campaigns.

Welcome cholesterol in your meal plans and host it smartly!

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Akansha is the Founder and Consultant at Beyond the Weighing Scale. With a wide range of expertise and skills, she is adept to speak about nutrition, health, lifestyle management and physical activity. She is a popular food columnist, a passionate foodie, a health enthusiast, an avid traveller and a happy yogi.

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