Having looked at the functions of fat more generally as well as saturated versus unsaturated fats, cholesterol is next up. We enjoy writing about fats, not only because fats are one of our favorite macro nutrients to cook with, due to their rich flavors and nutrient density, but also because there are many misconceptions about fats that we would like to see addressed more widely.
There is a great amount of misinformation on cholesterol out there. Don’t believe everything you read and definitely don’t shy away from eating foods that contain cholesterol. Our bodies would not function optimally without cholesterol. In fact, cholesterol is an organic molecule found in every single cell in the body with three very important functions: production of hormones (regulating physiology and behavior), bile acid production (bile acids aid digestion, especially digestion of fatty foods) and cell membrane maintenance (so that cells can communicate with each other). When we looked at saturated and unsaturated fats we learned that saturated fat consumption not only increased LDL, “the bad” cholesterol, but, also increased HDL, the “good” cholesterol.
Let’s look at what LDL and HDL actually are.
LDL stands for Low Density Lipoprotein and HDL for High Density Lipoprotein. Lipoproteins are proteins that transport cholesterol around the body. LDL carries newly synthesized cholesterol from the liver to the cells of the body. This newly synthesized cholesterol is then used for the functions described earlier. HDL, on the other hand, collects used or excess cholesterol from the body’s cells bringing this back to the liver.
Now we know what LDL and HDL do, we also understand that both have important functions in the body. Despite the common belief that LDL is “bad” and should be avoided, we now know that LDL is good as it has an important function in the body. However, just like anything, too much of a good thing is not good. When LDL levels are much higher than HDL levels, HDL will have a hard time collecting the excess LDL which could mean that LDL piles up.
Rather than worrying about high levels of LDL, we should be worrying about not having enough HDL, and balancing the two out so that they can work in harmony. So, how do we do this?
Avoiding foods that increase LDL while lowering HDL would be a good starting point. Foods that contain trans fats or highly refined carbohydrates would tick this box. Besides looking at dietary changes, weight loss, exercise and quitting smoking are all linked to higher levels of HDL