A lot is heard these days about cholesterol and how we have levels that are too high, that is good and bad cholesterol and that we should avoid it in our diet. Cholesterol is a fairly fatty substance that is essential for many metabolic processes. It is normally produced by the liver, but a substantial proportion is derived from our diet. Cholesterol is an essential food substance and our bodies are generally good at manufacturing it, so there is little need derive extra cholesterol from the diet of animal fats. Cholesterol is essential building block for membranes, hormones, bile and of course Vitamin D. Without bile we would not be able to digest any vegetable oils or fats.
Cholesterol is a mostly insoluble waxy substance that is carried around the blood stream by lipo-proteins. These transport molecules can be classified as LDL and HDL. The low density lipo-proteins (LDL) carries the cholesterol around the blood to the cells that need it. However too much cholesterol in the diet or overproduction can cause cholesterol to be deposited in the blood vessels and arteries. This can be especially dangerous in the heart and brain. Thus LDL the cholesterol is known as the bad cholesterol. The other type of transporter the high density lipo-proteins (HDL) carries cholesterol away from the blood stream to the liver. So just having high cholesterol is not the complete picture but it is the proportion of HDL to LDL that is also important. Generally the safe level for cholesterol is around 5mmol/l, however half the population is above this level.
The following risk factors increase the incidence of having a stroke and heart problems with high cholesterol. They include smoking, having a high animal fat diet, eating too much processed food, having Diabetes or high Blood Pressure, or even having a family history of heart disease and strokes. It is therefore essential to have your HDL/LDL cholesterol levels checked if you have any of the above risk factors, or if you are over 40 years old, overweight/obese and have a serious medical condition.
To reduce cholesterol it is essential to develop a healthy diet with plenty of fresh fruit and vegetables, in addition to increased exercise which seems to correct the HDL/LDL balance. Foods derived from animal sources are the real culprits. This includes fatty meats, some dairy, butter, eggs and some shellfish all contain cholesterol. Research does indicate that animal raised in less stressful environments have lower cholesterol. There are many plant derived products such as sterols (nuts,grains,soy), mono saturated vegetable oils (olive), saponins (legumes) and sulphur compounds (garlic,onions) that can contribute to lowering cholesterol.
Your body produces sufficient natural cholesterol - it does not need you to boost it with an unhealthy diet.