08/28/2009 - Questions and Answers

What is cholesterol?

By: Mark Castleden



What is Cholesterol? What are the types of Cholesterol?


What is cholesterol...
Cholesterol is a fat-like material present in the blood and most tissues, especially nervous tissue. It is an important constituent of cell membranes, and various types of cholesterol are precursors of many steroid hormones and bile salts. Cholesterol is synthesized mainly in the liver. An elevated concentration of cholesterol in the blood is often associated with atheroma of which cholesterol is a major component. (Atheroma is the degeneration of the walls of the arteries due to the formation in them of fatty plaques and scar tissue.)

An elevated concentration of cholesterol in the blood (high cholesterol) is a serious risk factor for hypertension and heart disease.

What is HDL cholesterol?
The various cholesterols are indeed perplexing. High-density lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol is often called the "good" cholesterol because it helps "cleanse" cholesterol from the blood vessels.

What is LDL cholesterol?
In contrast, low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol is often referred to as the "bad" cholesterol. Over time, it can accumulate in the blood vessels with other substances to form plaques. That can cause a blockage, resulting in heart attack or stroke. Triglyceride belongs with the "bad" cholesterol. It is a lipid, or neutral fat consisting of glycerol combined with three (tri-) fatty acid molecules. Triglycerides are synthesized from the products of dietary fat. They are the form in which fat is stored in the body.

So, it is important to eat foods that are low in saturated fats, and cholesterol. Some dietary fat is needed for good health. Fats supply energy and essential fatty acids, and permit absorption of the fat-soluble vitamins A, D, E, and K. Choose low- fat milk products, lean meats, fish, poultry, beans, and peas to get essential nutrients without substantially increasing calorie and saturated fat intake. Eat less red meat, especially ground beef and fatty processed meat like sausages and hot dogs, and full-fat dairy products like whole milk, regular cheese, ice cream, and butter. And remember: egg yolks are the biggest source of dietary cholesterol. High fibre foods: breads, pasta, rice, cereals, dried peas and beans, fruits, and vegetables are good sources of complex carbohydrates (starch and fibre). They are excellent substitutes for foods that are high in saturated fat and cholesterol. The type of fibre found in foods such as oat and barley bran, some fruits like apples and oranges, and in some dried beans may even help reduce blood cholesterol levels.

By eating a good low cholesterol diet you help raise the "good" cholesterol levels and lower the "bad" cholesterol levels. Regular exercise is also necessary to reduce and/or maintain normal body weight, along with no smoking. Alcohol should not be taken in excess, but 2 glasses of red wine daily may actually be beneficial in early cardiovascular disorders.

An approach to dietary management of high cholesterol is given on our website. You shall see below the URL for the article, plus a URL to a website for high fibre food choices. 

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Created on: 11/08/2000
Reviewed on: 08/28/2009

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