There’s good cholesterol, bad cholesterol, high cholesterol, low cholesterol, and total cholesterol. And when you add in high-density lipoprotein (HDL), non-high-density lipoprotein (non-HDL), and low-density lipoprotein (LDL) this whole issue of cholesterol can get confusing pretty quickly. That’s why we’re here; let’s cut through the confusion and look at why it’s so important to create healthy cholesterol levels naturally with diet and dietary supplements.
What is cholesterol?
Let’s begin with a simple cholesterol definition: it’s a fat that is found in all cells in the human body. The liver produces cholesterol and many foods contain cholesterol. Cholesterol makes hormones, vitamin D, and substances that help with digestion. As with most things in life, balance is key.
When there is high cholesterol circulating in the blood, plaque build-up can occur in the arteries, which can be dangerous to the heart. That’s why it’s important to monitor lipid panels that measure total cholesterol, HDL, non-HDL, LDL, and very-low-density lipoprotein (VLDL). Here is a cholesterol levels chart from the National Heart Lung and Blood Institute: (1)
What is bad cholesterol?
VLDL is also a factor. Both VLDL and LDL are considered “bad” cholesterol. After VLDL is produced in the liver it circulates triglycerides throughout the body. Some VLDL is cleared in the blood and the remaining amount is transformed into LDL. LDL is considered even more harmful because it has fewer triglycerides and more cholesterol. (2)
What is good cholesterol?
Conversely, HDL cholesterol is considered “good” cholesterol because it provides benefits to the heart. In fact, research shows that by increasing HDL cholesterol, there is a reduced risk of cardiovascular disease. (3) Non-HDL represents total cholesterol minus HDL cholesterol.
One of the best ways to control cholesterol levels is through diet and dietary supplements. This approach mitigates health risk while encouraging healthy cholesterol levels. It is a common precursor to prescription medications.
What is a healthy cholesterol diet?
Whole food and unprocessed diets, like the Mediterranean diet, are a great place to start when it comes to maintaining healthy cholesterol levels.
Specifically, regarding cholesterol, there are a few things to address from a dietary perspective, including cholesterol in eggs. It’s now common knowledge that eggs have gotten a bad rap. The fact is, eggs are a powerhouse of nutrition. And the egg-white-only craze didn’t help matters. The yolk is actually the most nutrient-dense part of the egg and contains many valuable vitamins, minerals, and amino acids. Eggs are also low in calories and high in protein. Studies now show that the benefits of egg consumption far outweigh their cholesterol content. According to a 2017 systematic review of randomized studies published in the Canadian Journal of Diabetes, eating six to 12 eggs per week had absolutely no adverse effects on heart health. (4)
Avoid these high cholesterol foods:
- Fried foods
- Fast food
- Ultra-processed foods
- Processed meats
- Desserts and sweets
It’s worth mentioning that most foods that are high in dietary cholesterol are also high in saturated fats, which may more appropriately explain why these cholesterol-containing foods can be harmful to health and to the heart. According to a 2018 review published in the journal Nutrients, eggs are an exception when it comes to cholesterol-containing foods that do not contain saturated fats and are considered health-promoting. (5)
Best cholesterol dietary supplements
There are many supplements on the market that can help control cholesterol levels. Here are 4 ingredients that will encourage cholesterol homeostasis. Remember to always consult your healthcare practitioner for supplementation advice and questions.
Omega-3 fatty acids
According to a 2017 review published in the journal Nutrients, there are several mechanisms of action that illustrate how omega-3 fatty acids can help reduce cholesterol levels including:
- Beneficial impact on Reverse Cholesterol Transport
- Positive influence on HDL remodeling
- Promote hepatobiliary sterol excretion (6)
Fish oil supplements are a great source of omega-3 fatty acids.
Aged garlic extract (AGE)
AGE has been studied extensively and has been shown to benefit heart health in general, as well as help control cholesterol levels. A 2016 literature review published in The Journal of Nutrition concluded that supplementation with AGE can help reduce risk factors of cardiovascular disease including total cholesterol, hypertension, and surrogate markers such as C-reactive protein, pulse wave velocity, and coronary artery calcium. (7)
Decades-long research clearly shows that this B vitamin can increase HDL while lowering LDL and triglycerides. (8) Because niacin can cause flushing, patient compliance can be an issue. Recommending an extended-release nicotinic acid form of niacin will help with this issue.
Red yeast rice
This herbal medicine has been used in China for centuries. According to a meta-analysis of 13 randomized, placebo-controlled trials published in 2014 in the journal PLOS One, “red yeast rice is an effective and relatively safe approach” to lower total cholesterol, LDL, and triglycerides. (9)
The bottom line
In addition to diet and dietary supplements, exercise can also help balance and lower cholesterol levels. A 2017 review published in the journal Lipids in Health and Disease explained that exercise positively influences LDL, HDL, triglycerides, non-HDL, and postprandial lipoprotein. (10)
Through a combination of exercise, diet, and dietary supplements, it’s possible to effectively control cholesterol levels. In cases of high cholesterol, this approach will also help lower cholesterol levels.
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- Ali K, Wonnerth A, Huber K, Wojta J. Cardiovascular disease risk reduction by raising HDL cholesterol—current therapies and future opportunities. British Journal of Pharmacology. 2012;167(6):1177-1194.
- Richard C, Cristall L, Fleming E, et al. Impact of egg consumption on cardiovascular risk factors in individuals with type 2 diabetes and at risk of developing diabetes: a systematic review of randomized nutritional intervention studies. Canadian Journal of Diabetes. 2017;41(4):453-463.
- Soliman GA. Dietary cholesterol and the lack of evidence in cardiovascular disease. Nutrients. 2018;10(6).
- Pizzini A, Lunger L, Demetz E, et al. The role of Omega-3 fatty acids in Reverse Cholesterol Transport: a review. Nutrients. 2017;9(10):1099.
- Varshney R, Budoff MJ. Garlic and heart disease. The Journal of Nutrition. 2016;146(2):416S-421S.
- Li Y, Jiang L, Jia Z, et al. A meta-analysis of red yeast rice: an effective and relatively safe alternative approach for dyslipidemia. PLOS One. 2014;9(6).
- Wang Y, Xu D. Effects of aerobic exercise on lipids and lipoproteins. Lipids in Health and Disease. 2017;16:132.