Cholesterol, which is a fat-like substance, travels through the bloodstream when consumed in large quantities. There are two types of cholesterol: good cholesterol, or HDL, and bad cholesterol, known as LDL. Over time, the bad cholesterol can cause narrowed or blocked arteries that prevent blood from properly reaching the heart, brain, and other vital organs. In time, such blockages may lead to stroke, heart attack, or heart failure.
Where does this dangerous cholesterol come from? Well, the liver produces all the good cholesterol your body will ever need. However, we additionally consume cholesterol from various foods in our everyday diet. High levels of HDL and low levels of LDL will reduce your risk of a heart attack.
So, yes, there is a definitive link between cholesterol and heart disease.
Cholesterol and Heart Disease
In the past, research indicated that a diet high in bad cholesterol could play a significant role in your overall heart health. More recent studies, however, suggest the connection between cholesterol and heart disease is far more complex than we previously thought.
Back in 2010, the Dietary Guidelines for Americans specifically stated that dietary cholesterol should not surpass 300 milligrams per day. The more recent guidelines, the 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans, do not include such specific limits. The research simply states that you should consume as little dietary cholesterol as possible.
Sources of Cholesterol
In order to avoid bad cholesterol and eat healthy amounts of good cholesterol, you need to know the most common sources of cholesterol in your diet.
Trans and Saturated Fats
Trans fats and saturated fats, both of which are bad for you in large quantities, are known to raise your LDL cholesterol and lower HDL cholesterol. These changes are often associated with an increased risk of heart disease. Furthermore, trans fats have no nutritional value.
Foods that often contain trans fats and saturated fats include donuts, cookies, red meat, lard, fried food, and whole-fat dairy products.
Instead of opting for the unhealthy trans and saturated fats, you can opt for healthier options that contain good cholesterol. Some options that lower LDL and raise HDL, all while managing weight, include:
- Oats and bran
- Barley and whole grains
- Beans and lentils
- Nuts, such as peanuts or almonds
- Citrus fruit, including apples and grapes
- Okra or eggplant
- Fatty fish
- Olive oil
It is important to remember that even healthy foods in excessive quantities can prove unhealthy. In order to ensure a strong heart, free of disease and bad cholesterol, you must consume a balanced diet. Start with the foods mentioned above but be sure to research appropriate quantities of each before consuming.