The topic of cholesterol has been under close scrutiny and debate since its discovery more than two centuries ago; with many studies undertaken, producing a wide variety of conclusions. Thankfully today, the main facts about this substance, including its dangers, benefits, and lifestyle changes required to keep it in check, have been generally established beyond reasonable doubt.
Cholesterol is a lipid molecule – a fatty acid produced within the body and found in all animal cells. It is not all bad news. In fact, it performs the very important function of keeping the cells in tact, and is also essential in the production of certain hormones and digestive enzymes. In order for it to be transported around the body, it binds with proteins, forming various types of lipoproteins. The two main types to be aware of are high density lipoproteins (HDLs), which are often referred to as good cholesterol; and low density lipoproteins (LDLs), known as bad cholesterol. Whereas HDLs work to remove excess cholesterol from cells and arteries, LDLs carry their cholesterol content into arteries and so too much of this type of lipoprotein can cause a dangerous build up.
As cholesterol is only produced by animals, much of our dietary intake comes from animal proteins. For meat eaters, there is therefore an increased chance of accumulating a high amount of low density lipoproteins (LDLs), risking cardiovascular issues. Studies have concluded that dairy products such as cheese, milk, and beef are major sources of bad cholesterol. Other sources include egg yolks, yogurt, crabs, shrimps, and pork. Our livers also produce cholesterol from the saturated fats we consume. Too much saturated fat can therefore increase the risk of LDLs building up in the blood. Trans fats are to be avoided as they increase the bad cholesterol whilst also decreasing the good cholesterol levels in the blood.
Examples of foods containing trans fats include fries, ice cream, cakes, cookies, pie crusts, crackers, fast food and processed meats.
Protein is believed to aid the development of muscle tissue as well as hasten the process of fat burning, and higher doses are therefore recommended for men and women engaging in intensive fitness training and weight loss programmes. Current studies suggest that 1.4 – 1.7 g of protein should be consumed per kg of body weight, depending on the intensity of the training. Boosting protein levels with foods that are major sources of LDL cholesterol, however, puts them at risk of associated health complications. It is therefore evident that unguided intake of protein by athletes and fitness enthusiasts could be counterproductive to their aims, and some caution should be exercised before embarking on a high protein diet.
Remember that a certain level of cholesterol is good and completely essential for our health and well being, so avoiding cholesterol containing foods is not necessary. As a general rule, limit protein products that are also high in saturated fats, such as most red meats, and replace them with protein sources that are more healthy. Chicken and fish are good sources of protein without having the associated high levels of saturated fat and can therefore be a better choice for those on a high protein diet. Furthermore, beans and nuts are also good protein sources, and as they are not animal products, they do not contain any cholesterol at all. Whilst nuts can contain varying levels of saturated fat, the majority of the fat content in nuts is unsaturated, healthy fat.
The Heart UK charity also recommend that starchy foods such as rice should form the basis of meals, and that plenty of fruit and vegetables should be consumed. Understanding what you should and should not eat when you are trying to focus on training and getting fit can be too time consuming, however Gold Standard Nutrition provide an easy solution. Their ready meals provide you with the protein that you need, but ensure that you get the right balance, with rice and vegetables combined with steam cooked chicken breast. The food is prepared in a way that ensures you obtain optimal nutritional benefits, giving you your protein requirements to prepare you for exercise, without significantly impacting your LDL cholesterol levels.
Adopting an approach that combines these meals, with a healthy dose of fresh fruit and vegetables, oily fish, nuts and seeds, will not only result in low blood levels of bad cholesterol, but will also keep your other body systems running in prime condition.
Written by Linda Firth
Please note, our nutritional needs are as individual as our fingerprints, and if you are considering significant changes to your diet, you should therefore consult your doctor or a professional nutritionist before you do so.
(2016, August 1). Retrieved April 2, 2017, from Harvard School of Public Health: https://www.hsph.harvard.edu/nutritionsource/what-should- you-eat/protein/
Manore, M. (2015, November 9). Retrieved April 2nd, 2017, from NCBI: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4672016/