Cholesterol has gotten a bad rap in recent years. True, around 50 million Americans suffer from high cholesterol, which can lead to cardiovascular disease and stroke. But this is the "bad," or LDL, type of cholesterol. Not all cholesterol is bad for your health; your body actually needs cholesterol to function properly. In fact, cholesterol is so important to your health that your body makes all the cholesterol you need. The problem comes when you eat foods that contain bad cholesterol. The Difference Between Good and Bad Cholesterol Cholesterol is a fat that flows through your bloodstream. Your liver produces cholesterol, but your diet also adds to the amount of this waxy substance in your blood. Cholesterol comes in two forms: HDL and LDL. Low-density lipoproteins (LDL) take cholesterol to the parts of the body where it's needed. If you eat a diet high in LDLs, however, the excess gets deposited in your arteries. Over time, this buildup can cause a blockage in the blood flow, leading to heart attack or stroke. High-density lipoproteins (HDL) absorb excess LDL cholesterol, taking it back to the liver. Ideally, HDL keeps your LDL cholesterol level under control so that it doesn't build up in your arteries and cause heart disease. But if too much LDL is in your bloodstream – as happens when you routinely eat a diet high in bad cholesterol – HDL can't clean up all of it. Consequently, you could suffer from cardiovascular disease. Identifying Bad Cholesterol One place you won't find dietary cholesterol – good or bad – is in fruits or vegetables. This is because cholesterol is only found in animal products such as meats, milk, and butter. Bad cholesterol is contained in saturated fats, which are solid at room temperature. Some foods high in bad cholesterol include: • Red meats, i.e. steak, hamburger • Eggs • Ice cream • Butter • Cream • Milk • Processed meats, i.e., sausage, salami • Store baked goods • Fried foods To keep your LDL cholesterol levels low, limit your consumption of saturated fats to no more than 10 percent of your total calories per day. (If you already have high cholesterol, less than 7 percent of your total calories should come from saturated fats.) Identifying Good Cholesterol Good cholesterol can be found in fats that are liquid at room temperature, such as vegetable oils. One of the best ways to lower your LDL cholesterol is to replace saturated fats with foods containing monosaturated or polyunsaturated fats. Some of these foods include: Monosaturated • Olives • Olive oil • Avocados • Peanut oil • Almonds, peanuts, cashews, and most other nuts • Safflower, sunflower, and pumpkin seeds • Peanut butter • Cashew butter Polyunsaturated • Fish • Flax seed oil • Walnuts If you replace most of the saturated fats in your diet with these good fats, you will lower your cholesterol and reduce your chances of developing heart disease.
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