Everything you need to know about Cholesterol

Knowing exactly what cholesterol is, what it’s doing to your body and what to do if your bad cholesterol is high can be confusing. 

Fit Squad DXB’s Co-founder Daniel Wells highlights some of the key facts and figures to help you get in-the-know, and outlines some of the things you can do if your cholesterol isn’t where it should be. 

What is Cholesterol?

Cholesterol is a fatty like substance called a lipid, which is produced naturally in the body and also derived from the foods we eat. It is essential for the make up of cell membranes, helps in producing oestrogen, testosterone and adrenal hormones, aids digestion and is needed for your body to produce vitamin D. 

It is also incredibly important for brain function and in fact the brain contains the highest concentration of cholesterol, with 25% of the body’s total store. The brain produces its own cholesterol which is needed for insulation to protect nerve cells, cell membrane function and acts as an antioxidant against damage from free radicals, low levels can lead to memory problems, depression and other mental health issues.

If it’s so important, why the backlash?

There are two main types of cholesterol: 

Low Density Lipoproteins (LDL - Bad): LDL builds up in the arteries and eventually these deposits grow and can make it difficult for blood to flow through, those deposits can then break away and form a clot that causes a heart attack or stroke.

Hight Density Lipoproteins (HDL - Good): HDL travels along the arteries picking up LDL along the way, carrying LDL back to the liver where it can be broken down.

Having a diet with too much bad fat will increase LDL levels and can result in a number of issues such as coronary disease as mentioned. Whereas a diet high in good fats can help to increase HDL count and combat your LDL numbers. A diet high in bad fats and low in good fats will inevitably leave you with a poor cholesterol reading. It’s important to think of them both separately doing opposite jobs and that good fats will actually help decrease the bad cholesterol.

So, what is the perfect cholesterol reading? 

A cholesterol check involves just a simple blood test. You should start checking your cholesterol reading from the age of 35 and then every 5 years for the average person. 

Medical News Today states that:

   Total cholesterol levels:

  • less than 200 milligrams per decilitre (mg/dL) is considered desirable

  • 200 - 239 mg/dL is borderline high 

  • A reading of over 240 mg/dL is high

  • LDL cholesterol levels:

  • should be less than 100 mg/dL 

  • 100 to 129 mg/dL is acceptable 

  • 130 to 159 mg/dL is borderline high

  • 160 to 189 mg/dL is high

  • HDL levels should be kept higher:

  • A reading of less than 40 mg/dL is considered a major risk factor for heart disease

  • 41 mg/dL to 59 mg/dL is borderline low 

  • Optimal is over 60 mg/dL.

How can you improve your cholesterol reading?

Look at what you’re eating, reduce bad fats and refined carbohydrates and increase your good fats. 

Refined Carbohydrates are contained in foods such as:

  • White bread

  • White pasta

  • Bagels 

  • Pizza 

  • Pastries 

  • Breakfast cereal

Bad fats (saturated and trans fats) are contained in foods such as: 

  • Fatty red meat (Beef/Lamb)

  • Pork 

  • Chicken with skin on (breast is okay)

  • Dairy - butter/milk/cheese

  • Potato chips and crackers

  • Fried foods using hydrogenated or hydrogenated vegetable oils

  • Cakes and bakery goods

Good fats (unsaturated and polyunsaturated) are contained in foods such as:

  • Fatty fish (sardines, mackerel, salmon and trout) 

  • Nuts 

  • Chia seeds 

  • Olives/Olive oil 

  • Blueberries/raspberries 

  • Avocados 

  • Oats

Read next: Nutrition and Mental Health

Fit Squad DXB trainers are here to help with any health, diet and fitness goals. Book your free consultation now by calling or WhatsApping us on +971 55 542 7231 or emailing us at info@fitsquaddxb.com

Devinder Bains