Cholesterol levels in the blood can be controlled with medications and lifestyle changes, including eating the right types of foods. Food sources containing higher than ideal cholesterol levels include animal and saturated fats, meats, shellfish, dairy products and egg yolks. Because cholesterol and saturated or animal fats are frequently found together in foods, adults should limit their intake to no more than 10 percent of each day's total calories. It is also advisable to consume foods that produce positive changes in the body's cholesterol levels.
Cholesterol is a substance that occurs naturally in the human body. Cholesterol unites with proteins in the bloodstream to form high-density lipoproteins (HDL) known as "good" cholesterol and low-density lipoproteins (LDL) or "bad" cholesterol. Excessive amounts of the wrong kind of cholesterol in the blood lead to the formation of plaque in the arteries that may eventually cause problems such as high blood pressure, circulatory problems and, later on, blood clots leading to heart attack or stroke.
Endogenous cholesterol is the body's natural cholesterol and is made by the liver. Cholesterol that is introduced into the body through food is called, "dietary cholesterol." Both types are used to reinforce cell membranes and nerve fibers and to synthesize major hormones and Vitamin D. When more cholesterol is taken into the body than is needed, the body adapts by making and re-absorbing less of its own cholesterol.
Food as Antioxidants
When cholesterol-rich foods are cooked or processed, electrons are lost due to oxygen, causing the LDL cholesterol to oxidize and form free radicals. These uncontrolled free radicals combine with other free radicals, causing damage to cells. Fortunately, the enzymes that make cholesterol in the liver attempt to clear out the free radicals. Foods containing vitamins C, E and Beta Carotene, when taken together, work with the enzymes to sweep some of the free radicals out of the body. Kale, strawberries and spinach are all rich in antioxidants, but ounce for ounce, blueberries contain more antioxidant properties than any other fruit or vegetable.
Plant sterols are substances in unsaturated chemicals contained in plants, and are similar in structure and function to the cholesterol made in the bodies of animals and humans. Plant sterols lower cholesterol by blocking its absorption from food and blocking the re-absorption of bile acids made from cholesterol in the liver. They can can lower LDL cholesterol by up to 14 percent. Foods that contain plant sterols include seeds, nuts, legumes, vegetable oils, wheat germ, grains and vegetables.
Flavonoids and Polyphenols
Flavonoids or bioflavonoids are water-soluble plant pigments that help reduce the accumulation of cholesterol and plaque in the arteries and have a strengthening effect on capillary walls. The sources of flavonoids found to produce positive results in lowering LDL cholesterol include citrus fruits, apples, onions, richly colored berries, purple or red grapes, tea and soy products. Recently, scientists have observed flavonoid's ability to reduce LDL cholesterol when used in the form of oil extracted from orange peels. Drinking a glass of red wine each night lowers the chances of plague deposits forming in the arteries. The wine contains polyphenols, substances which may lessen the damaging effects of LDL cholesterol on the blood vessels.
Fiber helps the liver remove LDL cholesterol from the blood, excreting it from the body before the cholesterol has an opportunity to accumulate in the arteries. Fiber-rich foods include strawberries, citrus fruits, pears, blackberries, raisins, figs, apricots, broccoli, beets, beans, Brussels sprouts, sweet potatoes, prunes and whole grains such as barley and oatmeal. A bowl of oatmeal should contain at least 10 grams of fiber per serving.
Total cholesterol in the body should be under 200 milligrams per deciliter of blood (200 mg./dl) with an HDL level of at least 35 mg./dl. LDL cholesterol level greater than 100 mg./dl carries an increased risk of heart disease.
Populations in the Mediterranean typically have low rates of coronary artery disease and have been found to use olive oil, a monounsatured fat, in place of any other type of fat. Evidence suggests that replacing saturated fat sources with monounsaturated fats such as olive oil may help lower LDL-cholesterol and increase HDL-cholesterol.