We all have heard of the term "cholesterol". The first time I came across this term, was when I read it on a pack of cooking oil which was labeled as "cholesterol free". But what exactly is cholesterol and why do we need, or not, need it? Well, in simple terms, cholesterol is a natural substance found in our body, and is necessary for conducting various important functions. It is a lipid steroid that is waxy in nature and is commonly found in the cell membranes. This substance is found in the blood plasma, and it aids the cell functioning by establishing membrane permeability and fluidity. There are also some other functions of cholesterol such as biosynthesis and biogenesis of bodily fluids such as bile, acids, and hormones. It is thus, important to maintain proper levels of cholesterol in the human body.

Good Cholesterol and Bad Cholesterol

Like every coin has two sides to it, this subject is no different. Our body consists of two types of cholesterol, namely; the low-density lipoprotein cholesterol (LDL), and the high-density lipoprotein cholesterol (HDL). The LDL cholesterol is considered to be the "bad cholesterol" because the excessive amount of this substance tends to circulate in the blood for a long period of time, thereby forming fat deposits and plaque in the blood vessels. This can cause narrowing of the blood vessels, leading to a partial, or complete blockage of the vessel. This in turn, increases the risk of cardiovascular diseases and heart attacks. Now, did you understand why high amounts of LDL is termed as "bad" cholesterol?

On the other hand, the HDL cholesterol fulfills the function of fluidity. It 'collects', or rather, absorbs the excessive LDL cholesterol, and transports it back to the liver for liver functioning, processing, and disposal. The HDL cholesterol thus, helps the human body in curbing the cholesterol deposits on the walls of the internal organs and other body tissues. Therefore, it won't be wrong to say that the good cholesterol helps clean up the excessive LDLs in the body to enhance a healthy functioning.

Where Does the Bad Cholesterol Come From?

Our body is created as a self-sufficient machine, which, more or less, has the capability to fulfill the major requirements in order to function properly. As I mentioned earlier, cholesterol is a substance found naturally in the human body. Which means, that both HDLs and LDLs are necessary for the human body. Then why are they termed as "good" and "bad"?

What we require is "balance". Yes, nothing in this world, even LDL for that matter, is bad, provided we learn to keep a balance. If we look at our diet these days, what do you find? Meat, dairy products, salt, saturated fats! While all these ingredients are required by the body for various functions; too much of them, cause unwanted accumulation of fat, water retention (due to salt), and LDL cholesterol levels in the body, putting you under various health risks. If you come to see, it is our taste buds, and the craving; or easy accessibility of the tasty and nasty junk food joints, that have created the term "bad cholesterol". Therefore, in order to keep the excessive LDLs under control (which entered your system through your dietary intake), you will have to increase the levels of HDLs to clean the LDLs; which will also happen through your dietary intake.

How to Raise Good Cholesterol Levels in the Body

If bad eating habits can raise bad cholesterol, then good eating habits can raise good cholesterol. Yes, raising HDL levels in the body is as easy as the previous statement. All you need to do is to follow a healthy lifestyle, with constant healthy eating and exercising. Here is a list of food items that should be included in your menu from now on.

Go Sea Food!
If you love your roast beef and pork chops, and can't let go of your love for meat, then you can always dig your teeth in some yummy dishes made with Halibut, Salmon, Mackerel, Albacore Tuna, Lake Trout, Sardines, and Herring. These fishes are known to be rich in omega-3 fatty acids; and are an excellent substitute for your meat. Because you also need to avoid excessive intake of saturated fats, it is preferable to grill or bake the fish and consume it.

... Or Go Nuts...!
OK, I mean don't go nuts, but go for some healthy nuts and have them as a snack in between your meals. Nuts like peanuts, walnuts, almonds, hazelnuts, pecans, pistachios, etc., are good sources of HDLs; they can significantly reduce the amount of bad cholesterol in your body. In fact, according to the Food and Drug Administration, consumption of 1.5 ounces a day, or in simple terms, a handful of these nuts would reduce the risk of heart diseases. A word of caution in this case would be, to keep the amount in prescribed quantity, because nuts are very rich in calories. Also, make sure that your nuts have no sugar and/or salt whatsoever.

Fresh Berries and Oranges
Orange juice is highly instrumental in hydrating all the cells of your body, thereby, increasing the cholesterol in the body and also enhancing fluidity. In addition, it is also a very good source of vitamin C. The daily intake of orange juice that is recommended is about 3 glasses a day. Consumption of cranberries, blueberries, raspberries, and blueberries are known to lower the levels of LDLs as well. These are also rich in fiber, which is also necessary for a healthy heart and body.

... Speaking of Fiber
Food items that are rich in fiber are undoubtedly considered to be healthy and apt for people dealing with health issues like obesity, diabetes, heart diseases, high blood pressure, and cholesterol related issues. So, include a lot of oatmeal, oat bran, whole wheat, whole grains, flaxseed, etc., in your menu. Fresh fruits and vegetables are also known to be rich in fiber. In fact, studies suggest that consumption of fiber also helps in promoting a healthy digestive system, and also removes plaque deposits from the arteries.

Cocoa rich Dark Chocolate
Cocoa is one of the best sources of good or HDL cholesterol. About a quarter cup of the cocoa (or 100 grams of dark chocolate) taken every day for several weeks, is known to be beneficial for lowering the bad cholesterol levels in the body. The point to be noted is that in order to avail the benefits of cocoa, you must only consume authentic dark chocolate which contains a minimum of 70% of cocoa solids.

Who Says Alcohol is Bad?!
Remember me using the term "balance" earlier in this article? Yes! So, standing true to that statement, not all types of alcoholic beverages, but only beer and red wine, when taken in moderate amounts; can prove to be beneficial in lowering bad cholesterol levels. According to Mayo Clinic, 1 drink a day for women and everyone aged over 65, and 2 drinks a day for men; would be considered beneficial for increasing HDLs in the body. However, if you don't drink alcohol, then stick to other methods of maintaining good cholesterol levels in the body.

Extra Virgin Olive Oil
To keep the LDL cholesterol levels at bay, it is necessary to avoid the consumption of saturated fats as much as possible. So, instead of using fats like butter, cheese, and other forms of cooking oil; it is better to use olive oil for the purpose. The Food and Drug Administration recommends 2 tablespoons of olive oil per day for a healthy heart. Do not consume more than the recommended amount of olive oil, as it is high in calories.

My Favorite, Garlic!
The next item on the list is garlic. Apart from the wonderful aroma and taste that it adds to the dish, garlic is a natural reservoir of various antifungal, antibacterial, and antiviral properties. It is also helpful in keeping the arteries clean from plaque deposits due to its antioxidant properties. So, use it as a significant item in your menu and avail its benefits in the best possible way.

There is More in the List
All the food items listed below, are also considered to be beneficial for a healthy heart. This means, that the consumption of these food items are helpful in removing the plaque deposits and minimizing health risks associated with cholesterol.
  • Green Tea
  • Avocado
  • Legumes (Not canned)
  • Yogurt
  • Quinoa
  • Grapes with Skin
  • Raw onions
  • Eggs (Consume fewer than 4 egg yolks per week, go for egg whites.)
If you are planning to increase the amount of HDL to keep your heart and health as active and problem free as possible, then I would recommend you to include the aforementioned food items in your daily menu. Although, a drastic change in the diet is a little difficult to cope with; try to bring about a gradual change in your eating habits. For example, instead of using butter for seasoning; use olive oil. If you are out with your friends, order a glass of red wine instead of rum. For breakfast, have orange juice instead of hot chocolate. Order for Salmon instead of beef. These small changes will boost you in bringing about a healthy; and necessary change in your lifestyle.

Remember, as per health experts, a healthy person should consume not more than 300 milligrams of cholesterol in a day. Also, if a person is suffering from cholesterol related health problems (heart diseases, diabetes, obesity), then the amount should be further reduced to less than 200 milligrams a day. The amount of HDL present in the body should be more than 60 mg/dL (milligrams of cholesterol per deciliter of blood). So, get a cholesterol test done right away, and set your targets to reduce LDLs with the help of a healthy and active lifestyle, which, of course, includes eating healthy. Take care.