Cholesterol: What Is It Good For?
It’s a fact that diabetes increases the risk of heart disease and stroke. Adding high cholesterol into the mix can result in quite a threat hanging over your head. But you should know that not all fats are created equal—and that some are even good for you. Here’s a quick overview.
What it actually is
Cholesterol refers to a group of lipids (fats) called lipoproteins that are both produced by your body and found in your diet. They play an important role in keeping various body functions running smoothly, especially hormones and digestion. In fact, life would be simply impossible without cholesterol!
High-density lipoproteins (HDL) are considered “good fats” since they (somewhat paradoxically) help to eliminate lipids in the blood. Generally, the higher your HDL cholesterol, the better you’ll fare. It’s produced when you consume, for example, omega-3 polyunsaturated fats (fish, nuts, legumes, etc.) as well as omega-9 monounsaturated fats (olive oil, avocado oil, canola oil, etc.).
Low-density lipoproteins (LDL), for their part, are considered “bad fats” because they can cause lipid accumulation in your arteries and hinder blood flow to the heart and brain. You want to have as low levels of it as possible, with the usual target being 2.0 mmol/L or under. Bad cholesterol comes mainly from saturated fats (highly processed food) and trans fats (fast food, frying, etc.).
This is another group of lipids, and these increase the risk of heart disease and stroke if their blood levels are too high. They’re found in sugars and alcohol, among others.
Diabetes is often associated with high cholesterol levels, which is why it’s important to have a lipid profile blood test done once a year. Other factors can come into play, including age, waist circumference, weight, smoking and family history.
Good habits to take
You have direct control over your cholesterol level, and sometimes all that’s needed to greatly improve your health is a couple of little lifestyle changes:
- Meet with a nutritionist to develop a proper diet plan.
- Check nutritional labels to identify and limit your intake of trans fats, saturated fats and sugars.
- Include a wide range of whole or little-processed products into your diet—whole grains such as barley, oats and quinoa, for example.
- Eat at home more often than at a restaurant so you have better control over what’s on your plate.
- Go for low-fat, sugar-free dairy products.
- If you smoke, consider quitting.
- If necessary, lose a few pounds to reach a healthy waist circumference (under 94 cm or 37 inches for a man, and under 80 cm or 31.5 inches for a woman).
- Monitor your blood glucose closely, as it can affect your cholesterol levels and thus increase your risk of heart disease.
- Ideally, exercise every day (a 30-minute walk is a good start!).
- If necessary, talk to your doctor about the possibility of taking cholesterol-lowering medication.
Cholesterol is not your enemy, but if you want to minimize your risk, you have to know the difference between the bad and the good… and make the right choices to stay healthy!
American Diabetes Association, “All About Cholesterol”: http://www.diabetes.org/are-you-at-risk/lower-your-risk/cholesterol.html. Accessed August 28, 2017.
Canadian Diabetes Association, “Cholesterol & Diabetes”: https://www.diabetes.ca/diabetes-and-you/healthy-living-resources/general-tips/travel-tips-for-people-with-diabetes. Accessed August 21, 2017.
Heart and Stroke Foundation of Canada, “Blood cholesterol”: http://www.heartandstroke.ca/heart/risk-and-prevention/condition-risk-factors/high-cholesterol. Accessed August 28, 2017.
National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute: “What Is Cholesterol?”: https://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/health/health-topics/topics/hbc/. Accessed August 28, 2017.