A cholesterol diet aims to regulate the levels of cholesterol in the blood stream in order to prevent heart disease.
Cholesterol is a soft, waxy substance found among the lipids (fats) in the bloodstream and in all cells of the body. It helps to form cell membranes and some hormones, and performs other functions necessary in a healthy body.
Cholesterol and other fats don’t dissolve in the blood, and are transported to and from cells by special carriers called lipoproteins.
Those of significance in a cholesterol diet are low-density lipoprotein (LDL) and high-density lipoprotein (HDL) – see a comprehensive guide to cholesterol numbers here.
LDL is the major cholesterol carrier in the blood. If too much LDL cholesterol circulates, it can gradually build up in the walls of the arteries feeding the heart and brain, forming plaque that can clog those arteries – a condition known as arteriosclerosis.
A clot forming near this plaque could block the blood flow to part of the heart muscle causing a heart attack, or to part of the brain, causing a stroke.
A high level of LDL cholesterol (160 mg/dL and above) presents an increased risk of heart disease, so LDL cholesterol is called “bad” cholesterol. Lower levels of LDL cholesterol reflect a lower risk of heart disease.
Anyone with heart disease, should aim for LDL cholesterol levels of less than 100 mg/dL.
About a third to a quarter of blood cholesterol is carried by HDL cholesterol.
It is thought that HDL tends to carry cholesterol away from the arteries and back to the liver, where it’s passed from the body. Some experts believe HDL removes excess cholesterol from plaques, thus slowing their growth.
So HDL cholesterol is known as “good” cholesterol because a high HDL level seems to protect against heart attack.
Conversely, a low HDL level (less than 40 mg/dL) indicates a greater risk of heart attack and possibly stroke.
Cholesterol lowering diets aim to balance LDL and HDL cholesterol to reduce the risks.
There are two main dietary theories when it comes to lowering cholesterol:
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There are also some supplements that can be used as part of a cholesterol diet.
While some experts may disagree about which foods to eat, there are some common food that should be avoided by those on a cholesterol diet.
A cholesterol diet isn’t just about the foods a person eats. Stress can also play a major role in preventing heart disease and improving health. Learning how to handle stress constructively can lead to better heart health.
Also adequate exercise is a necessary part of the cholesterol diet. Dieters should get at least 30 minutes of exercise a day.