In this month’s column, I want to focus on something a little bit different than fitness, training routines, and body fat loss, but something just as important, nevertheless.
I want to talk about cholesterol. Why? Because it is an extremely important part of your body’s overall health. Just about everyone out there knows the word cholesterol. However, most don’t really know the difference between good and bad cholesterol.
First of all, what is it? Cholesterol is a soft, waxy substance found among the lipids (fats) in the bloodstream. There are several kinds of cholesterol, but the ones to focus on are HDL (high-density or “good” lipoprotein) and LDL (low-density “bad” lipoprotein).
When most of us hear the word cholesterol we usually have a negative response. The fact is, you need cholesterol, because the body uses it to form cell membranes, create hormones and perform several other crucial maintenance operations. A high level of cholesterol in the blood creates a major risk factor for coronary heart disease, which can lead to a host of problems, including heart attack.
You get cholesterol in two ways. The body — mainly the liver — produces varying amounts a day. But when you consume foods high in saturated fats — particularly trans fats — your body goes cholesterol crazy, pumping out more than it could ever use. Some foods also contain cholesterol in varying degrees, such as egg yolks, some meats, even fish, seafood and whole milk dairy products. Eggs and seafood don’t contain as much, I might add, the majority of it is made by your own body.
Excess cholesterol in your bloodstream is removed from the body through the liver. But some of it winds up exactly where you don’t want it: along the walls of your arteries, where it combines with other substances to form plaque. Plaque raises blood pressure by making your heart work harder to get blood through your suddenly narrow vessels. Second, plaque can enter your blood stream, eventually forming clots that can lead to stroke, paralysis, death and other annoyances.
My last sentence was not by any means added to scare you, but to give you the facts. So, let’s breakdown good vs. bad cholesterol.
Good, or HDL cholesterol, wants to help the body out by picking up excess cholesterol and getting it out of your bloodstream by carrying it back to the liver, where it’s passed from the body, which is good. HDL also removes excess cholesterol from plaques and slows their growth. That’s really good. A high HDL level protects against heart attack. The opposite is also true: A low HDL level can indicate a greater risk.
Bad, or LDL cholesterol, has no interest in helping you out. LDL just wants to stick cholesterol in the most convenient place it can find, meaning your arteries. A high level of LDL cholesterol causes the lining of your arteries to build up with plaque. Something we all want to avoid, and something I will admit that I need to lower a bit myself. Whenever my cardiovascular activities slow down or are non-existent, my bad cholesterol always rises. I had a doctor’s visit recently, and my LDL levels were slightly elevated. I have never been one to do very much cardio, but that will need to change a little to get my bad cholesterol levels down.
Now diet plays a big part as well. I assume if you’ve read my other columns where we have gone over a healthy diet, you are now all eating correctly, right?
Simply put, HDL is on your side, always trying to come to your aid, while LDL is your enemy.
So what do you do to keep bad cholesterol at bay? I’ll give you a few tips to help you prevent LDL from surfacing. As I said, diet and exercise are the key elements here, but some other important tips follow.
Quit smoking. Don’t skip breakfast. Start your day off with a healthy meal, including a multi-vitamin or mineral. Have five or six small meals a day, as opposed two or three. Eat grapefruit, nuts, grains and beans, leafy greens (salads), oatmeal or oat bran fiber. Drink green tea, grapefruit juice or cranberry juice, and incorporate niacin (a form of vitamin B), chromium, folic acid and garlic into your diet.
I hope this helps you understand the importance and difference between good and bad cholesterol and how important managing them is to our health.
—Scott Markey has over 25 years in the fitness and health industry. He has graced dozens of magazine covers and specializes in physique management, training and nutritional consultation. You can find him on Facebook or reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.