Cholesterol: What’s in a Nutrition Label?

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My family has a history of health issues, so I recently decided to get a jump-start on prevention. But how should I start to eat healthier? I graduate college in a year, and I still don’t fully understand how each nutrient on a nutrition label affects my body. So I started to research. This will be the start of a series on sorting through each nutrient, and why it’s important to know what you’re putting in your body. 

I decided to start with cholesterol. At its base level, it is a fatty substance that aids in digestion and the production of hormones and Vitamin D. The body actually makes 100% of its daily value. If you’re eating any foods that contain cholesterol, you’re going over your healthy intake. But why does that matter?

Why Can Cholesterol Be Dangerous?

To know this, you need to know that cholesterol is carried through the body by two types of packages: LDL and HDL. Low-density lipoproteins (LDL) can lead to a buildup of cholesterol in arteries. High-density lipoproteins (HDL) carry cholesterol to the liver where the body gets rid of it. According to the NHLBI, if you have a high LDL level you have a greater riskcholestoral2 for heart disease, and thus a high risk for a heart attack.

High levels of LDL cause cholesterol to build up in your arteries, possibly forming calcium, fat, and plaque. If enough plaque builds up, it can form a blood clot which may cause a stroke. This may seem like a health issue that’s far away in the future, but prevention at a young age matters. According to NHLBI,

22% of women in their 20s have high cholesterol. In general, 50% of women have high cholesterol.  because heart disease is the number one killer of women in the United States, decreasing your cholesterol levels is paramount to staying healthy.

According to Prevention, there are many cheap and yummy foods that are easy to add to your diet, and have been proven to help with reducing HDL and LDL.

A photo collage of tea, oatmeal, wine, and chocolate

Cholesterol-lowering Foods

  • Black tea can reduce blood lipids by 10% in less than a month.
  • Beans can lower LDL by up to 8%. It’s really easy to add beans to some rice or to throw some in a Crock-Pot and make chili!
  • Dark (or bittersweet) chocolate is full of antioxidants, and can potentially decrease your LDL by 24%! That’s a pretty sweet reason to keep some around.
  • Oatmeal is both a super cheap breakfast and a great way to lower LDL levels. You can save money as well as lower your LDL by 5% in less than 2 months!
  • Not that many college students need an excuse, but it has been observed that a glass of red wine a day can lower LDL levels by 12%.

Cholesterol is hard to avoid; foods such as eggs, red meat, and milk can increase LDL levels. But, as with all things, moderation is key – and so is balancing out the harmful effects of some food with the beneficial effects of others.