Just hearing the word “cholesterol” can send people running in another direction. Though most people equate it with something negative, did you know that that not all cholesterol is created equal?
What Is Cholesterol?
Cholesterol, in general, is a fat-like substance that your body uses for proper functioning. Your body needs cholesterol to make vitamin D, produce hormones, and create digestive juices to break down the food you eat. Without some cholesterol in your diet, your body can’t fully do its job.
Cholesterol is carried through the bloodstream by lipoproteins, which are made of fat and protein. There are two types of lipoproteins; low-density lipoproteins (LDL) and high-density lipoproteins (HDL). There is, however, a very big difference between the two.
The Good And The Bad
LDL cholesterol is considered to be the “bad” cholesterol. Unfortunately, LDL makes up the majority of the cholesterol in the body. LDL carries cholesterol through the arteries where it can stick to the artery walls. As it sticks, it builds up, narrowing the arteries and raising the risk for a heart attack or stroke.
HDL, or “good” cholesterol, is the champion in the body-game. HDL transports cholesterol to the liver where it is processed and flushed out of the body. HDL can also act as a scavenger, finding LDL and taking it back to the liver for disposal. The higher the level of HDL in your body, the lower your risk of heart attack and stroke.
Why So High?
High cholesterol levels can go unnoticed because they do not cause any symptoms. A simple blood test ordered by your doctor can let you know if you have too much LDL in your blood; or not enough HDL.
Some of the causes of a high LDL include:
• Lack of regular exercise
• A large waist circumference (over 40 inches for men, 35 inches for women)
Or, a diet that contains high amounts of:
• Red meat
• Saturated fats
• Trans fats
• Processed foods
• Full-fat dairy
Taking charge over what you eat can be the first step in reducing your high LDL levels and increasing your HDL.
What To Eat?
Reducing LDL and increasing HDL can be done by making smart choices with your food. In addition to avoiding those that can increase your LDL, try eating more of those that reduce it, such as:
• A large variety of fruits and vegetables
• Whole grains
• Skinless poultry and lean red meat
• Fish that is baked instead of fried
• Vegetable or olive oils
• Unsalted seeds, nuts, and legumes
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