Cholesterol 

Cholesterol and fat are indispensable for maintaining optimal health. Fat serves as an energy source and insulation, while cholesterol is a fundamental component of cell membranes, necessary for their structure and maintenance. Both fall under the lipid family, and since lipids are water-insoluble, they circulate through the bloodstream in packages known as lipoproteins. The synthesis of cholesterol is influenced by dietary fat intake, and different types of fats lead to the production of distinct cholesterol types packaged in various lipoproteins, each exerting unique effects on overall health. 

How do we distinguish between the good and bad?

There are four main types of fats:

  • Saturated
  • Trans
  • Monounsaturated
  • Polyunsaturated

While cholesterol is primarily synthesised in the liver, certain foods also contain dietary cholesterol. Cholesterol packaged in low-density lipoproteins (LDLs) is considered detrimental to health, contrasting with cholesterol packaged in high density lipoproteins (HDLs).

Saturated and trans fats fall into the undesirable category. They stimulate the liver to produce higher levels of cholesterol packaged in LDLs. As these LDLs circulate, cholesterol detaches from the package, adhering to artery walls over time. This process narrows the arteries, imposing strain on the heart and leading to cardiovascular disease. In severe cases, cholesterol deposits can block arteries, elevating the risk of a major heart attack. 

Monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats, the beneficial types, stimulate cholesterol production packaged in HDLs. HDLs counteract the adverse effects by transporting LDL cholesterol away from artery walls, maintaining smooth and plaque-free arteries. HDSs then transport cholesterol to the liver for removal and reuse, acting like a waste-disposal system.

Recommendations:

In moderation, consuming healthy fats significantly contributes to health by influencing the type of cholesterol and lipoproteins produced. Incorporating good fats and cholesterol into your diet can be achieved by:

  1. Including half and avocado in multiple meals each week to enhance cholesterol balance, thanks to its polyunsaturated fat content that stimulates HDL production and reduces inflammation. 
  2. Cooking with rapeseed oil as an alternative to olive oil, improving monounsaturated fat intake and promoting HDL production.
  3. Opting for nut butter instead of margarine, as it contains polyunsaturated fat instead of saturated fat.
  4. Choosing mixed seeds or unsalted nuts as snacks for an energy boost, rich in polyunsaturated fats.

Fats to consider limited in your diet include: 

  1. Cakes, buns and biscuits (trans-fat)
  2. Margarine and butter (saturated fat)
  3. Processed meats and hard fat on meats (saturated fat)
  4. Mayonnaise (saturated fat)

References:

Crismaru, I., Pantea Stoian, A., Bratu, O.G., Gaman, M.A., Stanescu, A.M.A., Bacalbasa, N. and Diaconu, C.C., 2020. Low-density lipoprotein cholesterol lowering treatment: the current approach. Lipids in health and disease19, pp.1-10.

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