Cholesterol is a waxy, fat-like substance found in our body. Some amount of it is naturally synthesised in our body and some is obtained from the food we eat. Cholesterol is needed for the synthesis of certain hormones, vitamin D and is also required to build and maintain cell membranes. It also helps in the production of bile. When it exceeds the normal range, it is deposited in the walls of arteries, increasing your risk of heart disease.
Ideal cholesterol levels are:
Desirable: less than 200 mg/dl
Borderline high: 200-239 mg/dl
High: 240 mg/dl and above
Cholesterol travels through the bloodstream. There are two types of lipoproteins that carry cholesterol — HDL (high density lipoproteins) and LDL (low density lipoproteins). LDL is known as bad cholesterol as it is carried from the liver to the cells. And if the amount it carries to the cells is more than the quantity the cells can use, then it leads to accumulation. LDL cholesterol should be less than 150 mg/dl. HDL is commonly known as good cholesterol because it carries cholesterol from the cells to the liver and subsequently excreted from the body. HDL cholesterol should be greater than 40 mg/dl.
What is high cholesterol?
If you include foods that are high in saturated fats, trans fats and cholesterol in your diet, then they can lead to a rise in bad LDL levels. Saturated fats are present in meat, dairy and baked products. Trans fats are present in fried and processed foods, most baked foods, farsans and snacking items. People who do not exercise have more LDL cholesterol. Being overweight can lead to high levels too. If you have a family history of high cholesterol, chances are you might also have them. Cholesterol levels also increase with age. For women, LDL levels tend to be more after menopause.
Lower your levels
Exercise can help you to keep your cholesterol in range. Do some kind of aerobic exercises. It will improve circulation and lower risk of coronary heart disease. Try to exercise for at least 30 minutes for six times per week. If you are overweight, then try to lose at least 10 per cent of your body weight. Studies have shown that fibre reduces cholesterol. Add it by eating lots of fresh fruits, vegetables and whole grain cereals. Try to consume raw vegetable salads daily. Choose a diet low in saturated fats and trans fats.
Avoid animal fats, butter, dairy products, ice cream, margarine, baked, fried food and cakes. Use rice bran oil or olive oil as your cooking medium if you have high cholesterol. Use not more than 3-4 teaspoons of oil per person per day. Include sources of omega-3 fatty acids, such as walnuts, flaxseeds, salmon, mackerel and sardines in your diet. Eat fish 3-4 times a week. Take one tablespoon of flaxseed powder and one tablespoon of isabgol daily.
Dr Anjali Mukerjee is a nutritionist and the founder of Health Total, a nutrition counselling centre.