If you’re wondering how to improve your cholesterol, your healthcare provider has probably told you your “numbers” are abnormal. This generally means your total cholesterol is too high, your HDL (good) cholesterol is too low, your LDL (bad) cholesterol is too high, or your triglycerides are too high. (More than one of your cholesterol numbers could be abnormal.)
Doctors focus on these numbers because abnormal cholesterol levels are thought to increase the risk of heart disease.
Heart disease is the number 1 killer of both men and women in the United States, and this scares you. You don’t want to be a statistic. So, of course, you wonder about improving your cholesterol. Duh! Should you eat a particular diet? Exercise? Should you take statin drugs to lower your cholesterol?
Calm down and take a DEEP breath. There is more to cholesterol than what you’ve probably heard from your doctor and the media. A whole lot more.
Is there too much focus on improving cholesterol?
For decades, cholesterol has been cast as the villain of heart disease. It has gotten such a bad reputation that many people automatically consider cholesterol to be totally bad. Period. They think every time they eat foods that contain cholesterol, they’re killing their hearts little by little. Many people apparently think their diet is the source of all the cholesterol in their bodies. They couldn’t be more wrong.
Blood cholesterol is a fatty, waxy substance crucial for health. In fact, cholesterol is so essential to your body that your liver and brain make all the cholesterol you need. Every cell of your body synthesizes cholesterol. You couldn’t live without it.
Functions of cholesterol
Here are just a few of the important functions of cholesterol:
- It is essential for making steroid hormones, such as the sex hormones estrogen, progesterone, and testosterone. (Without sex hormones, there could not be life!) It is also involved in making cortisol, a hormone that helps regulate blood sugar levels.
- The sun interacts with cholesterol on your skin to make vitamin D, a nutrient that is essential for strong bones and teeth. Incidentally, a deficiency of vitamin D has been found to increase the risk of heart disease.
- Cholesterol helps make bile, which is stored in your gallbladder. Bile is needed to digest fats.
- Nerve cells use cholesterol for insulation.
The body automatically adjusts cholesterol levels.
Animal products, such as beef, chicken, eggs, and dairy products, contain cholesterol. When you consume foods that contain cholesterol, your body adjusts the amount of cholesterol it produces to balance out the amounts circulating in your bloodstream.
For instance, if you consume a large number of animal products, the body will reduce its production of cholesterol. If you consume a large number of plant products, such as fruits and vegetables, the body will increase its production of cholesterol.
Does lowering cholesterol reduce your risk for heart disease?
The supposed “fact” that high cholesterol causes heart disease is a myth. Cardiologist Stephen Sinatra, the co-author of the book, The Great Cholesterol Myth, writes about this myth in-depth. Dr. Mark Hyman, Director of Cleveland Clinic’s Center for Functional Medicine, also writes about the cholesterol myth on his website, saying that most people who suffer heart attacks have normal cholesterol levels.
Nevertheless, ever since cholesterol became demonized in the ‘50s and ‘60s, Americans have been scared away from eating foods containing cholesterol. That generally means staying away from saturated fat. No red meats. No whole eggs. Drink skim milk only.
People with high cholesterol were prescribed an even stricter diet. They read everything they could about cholesterol. They followed all the advice, but it wasn’t easy to completely cut meat products out of their diets. Doctors and probably even their families and friends made them feel as if they were killing themselves if they had eggs for breakfast…and if they added bacon or sausage…well…they might as well plan their funeral.
This is despite the fact that there has never been one shred of scientific evidence that consuming saturated fat or cholesterol increases the risk of heart disease. But that didn’t matter.
Does cholesterol play any role in heart disease?
If you’ve been wondering about improving your cholesterol to reduce your risk of heart disease, it has not been totally in vain. Cholesterol does play a role in heart disease, but not as big of a role as all the supposed “experts” have been saying it does.
On his website, Dr. Stephen Sinatra states that cholesterol is only a bit player in heart disease. The real villain in heart disease, as it is in most health conditions, is inflammation. Cholesterol gets pulled into the process, but it is not the cause of the disease.
Inflammation is your body’s normal and natural response to an injury. The injury can come from toxins, bacteria, pathogens, oxidative stress, a cut, or any other assault on the system. As soon as the injury occurs, the inflammatory process begins to isolate the site of the assault from healthy tissues and to commence the healing process.
Signs of inflammation
The 5 signs of inflammation are as follows:
- Loss of function
If the injury is due to infection or is deep inside the body, you may not feel any of these symptoms. As soon as the foreign invaders have been removed and the healing sufficiently underway, the body releases anti-inflammatory chemicals, and the swelling goes away. This is acute inflammation.
This inflammation is not harmful — unless it turns chronic.
How does chronic inflammation affect cholesterol and heart disease?
Many researchers now believe the root of most diseases and health conditions may be chronic inflammation.
Chronic inflammation is long-term inflammation that can occur when the immune system sends white blood cells to fight something that is not a threat. Once they arrive at the site, they may mistakenly start attacking and destroying healthy tissue. This causes the tissues to send distress signals, prompting the immune system to send more white blood cells that start attacking the tissues. This spurs chronic inflammation, and the type of illness it causes depends upon the tissue(s) affected.
If the white blood cells attack tissues around the joints, it will cause arthritis. If they attack the tissues of the airways, it will cause asthma. So, just how is chronic inflammation connected to heart disease? It really has nothing to do with cholesterol and everything to do with inflammation.
You see, despite everyone being told that LDL cholesterol is bad for your heart and that you have to keep your LDL levels below a certain number, that’s not exactly true. In fact, LDL makes up most of your body’s cholesterol. On his website, Dr. Sinatra states that all cholesterol, including LDL, benefits your body. It is only dangerous when damaged by free radicals, called oxidation. Oxidized LDL particles can become lodged in the lining of arteries. This creates an injury that causes chronic inflammation.
One of the reasons doctors always focus on your cholesterol numbers is that LDL cholesterol carries cholesterol to the cells. Therefore, researchers believed this action alone causes the buildup of plaque in the arteries leading to heart disease.
Subtypes of LDL particles: the real predictor
Research indicates that is not the complete story, however. There are actually subtypes of HDL and LDL cholesterol. These subtypes are distinguished by their particle sizes, each of which has different effects on the body.
There are large, fluffy particles (subtype A) and small, dense particles (subtype B)
Because small particles of LDL (subtype B) are more vulnerable to free radical damage, they are more likely to become lodged into the walls of your arteries, creating chronic inflammation. Large particles of LDL (subtype A), on the other hand, simply bounce off arterial walls, generally creating no risk to the heart.
So, instead of just learning methods to lower your cholesterol, you should also know how much of your LDL cholesterol is of subtype A and/or B. That is the better predictor of heart disease. The more subtype B you have, the more of an increased risk of heart disease it poses. If you would like to know your particle subtypes, ask your doctor to order you a Lipoprotein Particle Profile (LPP) test or a Vertical Auto Profile (VAP) test.
Want to reduce your risk for heart disease? Eliminate small LDL particles!
The best way to reduce your chances of heart disease, then, is to eliminate small LDL particles. Unfortunately, there is no way to surgically remove them. But what you can do is learn what causes small, dense LDL particles to form and then eliminate the root of the problem.
Small, dense LDL particles are caused by high-carb, low-fat diets. You know, the same type of diet the “experts” in the medical field and our own government told us to eat. When people wanted to improve their cholesterol, the advice was always the same. Eat more carbs and reduce your consumption of fat, especially saturated fat.
This advice is probably what made heart disease the leading cause of death for all U.S. adults. It turns out that, though saturated fat raises LDL, it also increases the size of its particles, making it much less likely to become lodged into the arterial walls to cause heart disease. Saturated fat consumption also raises HDL, the good cholesterol. Sugar consumption, incidentally, has been shown to lower HDL cholesterol, increasing the risk of heart disease.
SANE eating and your cholesterol
Improving your cholesterol is a simple process. All you need to do is adjust your diet, and when you eat SANEly, that’s not difficult at all.
The SANE Diet: the best way to improve your cholesterol
The SANE Diet contains foods that eliminate inflammation, reduce the size of the LDL particles, and lower your setpoint weight. All of these will reduce your risk of heart disease.
Use these guidelines, and you will improve your cholesterol with ease.
- Gradually reduce with the goal of eliminating refined carbohydrates and anything with added sugar from your diet. Many studies show sugar and refined carbs are the real risk factor for heart disease, not high cholesterol.
- Reduce consumption of ultra-processed foods. These contain sugars, sodium, preservatives, and other dangerous chemicals that promote inflammation. Instead of eating ultra-processed foods, purchase whole foods and make more meals at home.
- Memorize the SANE Plate: For each main meal: fill half your plate with non-starchy vegetables, one-third of your plate with nutrient-dense protein, and the remainder of your plate with whole-food fats. You are welcome to also enjoy 1-3 servings of low-fructose fruit per day.
Here are some examples of foods you’ll enjoy when you go SANE.
Try to eat at least 10 servings per day.
Non-starchy vegetables contain powerful anti-inflammatory properties, which will help reduce the size of your LDL particles.
Great choices include:
3-5 servings per day, 30-55 grams per meal
Nutrient-dense proteins keep blood sugar levels stable and reduce your cravings for sugars and refined carbs.
Try some of these delicious options:
- Cottage Cheese
- Egg Whites
- Grass-Fed Beef
- Nonfat Greek Yogurt
3-6 servings per day
Whole food fats are satisfying. They also promote fat burning, which decreases inflammation.
Here are some great choices to try:
- Chia Seeds
- Flax seeds
0-3 servings per day
Here are some yummy low-fructose fruits to have for dessert or a snack:
- Goji Berries
Now that you know more…
Are you ready to do something about it? The SANE Diet is a SANE way to eat. No calorie or point counting. No hunger, frustration, guilt, or shame. Just lots of good, real food that you can eat until you’re full! So what are you waiting for? There’s no time like the present to lower your setpoint weight, improve your cholesterol, and reduce your risk of heart disease!
The next step
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