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If you’re curious about cholesterol, you aren’t alone… Though it’s common knowledge that you should keep your cholesterol levels from creeping too high to prevent certain diseases, most people don’t know a ton of details beyond that – including how your diet and lifestyle fall into the equation.
In this article we’ll discuss what cholesterol is, the difference between good and bad cholesterol, and what steps you should take to maintain proper levels. We’ll also look at the foods you should eat and avoid to keep your cholesterol in check. Finally, we’ll examine meal replacement shakes and how they factor into the equation…
Which shakes are best if you’re watching your cholesterol? Why does the type of protein in your shake matter? And how can diet shakes in general help you get a grip on your cholesterol levels?
Let’s start at the beginning…
What is Cholesterol, Anyway?!
Cholesterol is a waxy, fatty substance found in the cells of your body… And believe it or not, your body actually produces cholesterol, which has essential functions to help keep you alive. It’s needed to produce hormones, build cell walls and synthesize vitamin D, to name a few of the big ones. (1)
Here’s where things get a little tricky. Your body naturally produces all of the cholesterol you need in your liver. But you can also get it from the foods you eat. This makes it easier to understand how we’re at constant risk for high cholesterol, based on the diet and lifestyle choices we make.
The main dietary sources of cholesterol are animal-based and include:
- Full-fat dairy items
- Palm and coconut oils
But that’s not all. While those foods contain cholesterol, other foods that are high in saturated and trans fats trigger the liver to actually make more of it. Therefore, a healthy diet should aim to limit these food types, which we’ll discuss in depth later in this article. But first we have to tell you about…
Good Vs. Bad Cholesterol in Your Body
One of the major keys to understanding cholesterol and how it affects your health is knowing the difference between the two different types of cholesterol, which have been dubbed “good” and “bad” cholesterol. (1)
Cholesterol travels through your body on small “packages” called lipoproteins. The two subtypes of lipoproteins are called high-density lipoproteins (HDL) and low-density lipoproteins (LDL).
Low-Density Lipoproteins (LDL)– Known as the “bad” cholesterol because when you have too much of it in your body, it can build up and create dangerous plaque on the walls of your arteries – over time leading to a higher risk of heart attack or stroke.
High-Density Lipoproteins (HDL)– Known as the “good” cholesterol because it actually helps manage the LDL in your body by picking up excess fat in the form of LDL cholesterol and carrying it to the liver. Once there, the organ breaks it down and removes if from your body.
You’re more at risk for imbalance and disease in your body when you have more LDL cholesterol than your HDL cholesterol can wipe out.
Also worth knowing about is….
Triglycerides– These are another type of fat in the blood that can make a high LDL level even worse, contributing to additional build up on artery walls.
What Causes High Cholesterol?
Though diet and lifestyle choices play a big role in keeping your cholesterol levels in a healthy range, there are other circumstances in which you may be predisposed to higher levels.
If any of the following conditions apply to you, take extra caution to monitor your cholesterol levels to ensure they aren’t getting too high. (2)
Conditions That Can Lead to High Cholesterol:
- Obesity/excess weight– This can lead to higher LDL levels in the blood.
- Genetically disposed– Especially people with the inherited condition familial hypercholesterolemia can have high LDL levels.
- Diabetes – Often this disease can lead to low HDL and high triglyceride levels.
- Liver or kidney disease– If these organs aren’t working properly, it can cause cholesterol to build up in the body.
- Polycystic ovary syndrome– The disease can cause high levels of triglycerides and low HDL.
- Pregnancy– With the increased levels of female hormones can come higher blood pressure and cholesterol levels.
- Underactive thyroid gland– When thyroid hormone levels are low, your body doesn’t break down and remove LDL as well.
- Drugs that increase LDL and decrease HDL– Includes progestins, anabolic steroids and corticosteroids.
When it comes to your diet, reducing your fat intake will greatly help manage your cholesterol levels. You should limit foods that contain:
- Cholesterol– Animal proteins and dairy.
- Saturated fat– Processed meats, dairy products, baked foods, fried and processed foods.
- Trans fat– Many fried and processed foods.
Best Foods for Healthy Cholesterol Levels
Harvard Health recently released a report that outlines 11 top foods to eat for healthier cholesterol levels. These foods lower LDL and overall cholesterol by providing abundant soluble fiber, delivering polyunsaturated fats, and containing plant sterols and stanols – which prevent the body from absorbing cholesterol. (3)
11 Foods That Lower Cholesterol
- Barley & Other Whole Grains
- Eggplant & Okra
- Vegetable Oils
- Apples, Grapes, Strawberries & Citrus Fruits
- Foods fortified with Sterols & Stanols (added to food items such as granola bars and chocolate).
- Soy (get organic to reduce exposure to GMOs)
- Fatty fish
- Fiber supplements such as psyllium
How to Lower Cholesterol: Additional Ways
Along with eating a heart-healthy diet and maintaining a healthy weight, other lifestyle factors that can assist with good cholesterol levels include:
Exercise – Engaging in regular physical activity can help lower cholesterol by assisting with weight management. In addition, it can help move LDL from the blood to the liver, where the organ can safely dispose of it. Most health organizations recommend at least 30 minutes per day of moderate to vigorous exercise to get these benefits. (4)
Stop Smoking– Smoking cigarettes lowers your HDL levels, and worsens the detrimental effect that LDL has on the body. (5)
Making important lifestyle/dietary changes may be all you need to do to lower your cholesterol, though some people may need to take additional measures, and may be prescribed a cholesterol medication. Statins are the leading group of cholesterol-improving drugs today but there are also additional medications that can be prescribed by your doctor.
High Cholesterol Symptoms: How Will I Know If I Have High Cholesterol?
A scary aspect of high cholesterol is there are usually no signs or symptoms! Which is why it’s so important to get your regular physical every year, and additional check-ups if you’re pregnant or have another high-risk factor.
Having high cholesterol levels without knowing it becomes more and more dangerous and even deadly as you age (and are at greater risk of a heart attack).
Healthy Cholesterol Levels: Show Me the Numbers
When you go to the doctor and have your cholesterol checked, make sure it falls into a healthy range using this guideline… (2)
Total Cholesterol Levels for Adults:
- Healthy: Less than 200 milligrams per deciliter (mg/dL)
- Borderline high: 200 – 239 mg/dL
- High: 240 mg/dL or more
LDL Cholesterol Levels:
Healthy: Less than 100 mg/dL
Acceptable for those in good health but not for anyone with heart disease risk factors: 100 – 129 mg/dL
Borderline high: 130 – 159 mg/dL
High: 160 – 189 mg/dL
Very High: 190 mg/dL
HDL Cholesterol Levels:
Healthy: 60 mg/dL or higher
Borderline low: 41– 59 mg/dL
Unhealthy (major risk factor for heart disease): Less than 40 mg/dL
Meal Replacement Shakes & Cholesterol Levels
Meal replacement shakes are a delicious, nutritious, easy way to help keep your cholesterol levels in check. By promoting a healthy lifestyle, these shakes can be a beneficial tool in your overall cholesterol management plan or low cholesterol diet. (6)
How Much Cholesterol to Consume Daily
The best way to ensure healthy cholesterol levels is to follow a healthy diet and lifestyle, but if you’re worried, you can track the cholesterol you eat each day and abide by these guidelines… (7)
Recommended daily intake of dietary cholesterol for the average healthy person (According to the Heart and Stroke Foundation of Canada):
- 300 milligrams per day (with less than seven percent of calories coming from saturated fat)
- 200 milligrams per day if you’re battling heart disease or diabetes
Meal Replacement Shakes Assist with Healthy Cholesterol Levels By…
- Helping you manage and maintain a healthy weight
- Replacing other more fatty, unhealthy meals
- Helping you control cravings for unhealthy foods that increase LDL
But the right meal replacement shake makes all the difference. First, you want to make sure that it doesn’t contain high cholesterol. While plant-based proteins will assist with lowering cholesterol, whey-based proteins will add cholesterol, so it’s helpful to keep track and not go over your limit.
For the healthiest option, look for a meal replacement shake that has:
- Plant-based proteins that don’t add cholesterol and help lower LDL
- Good fiber per serving
- Additional superfoods added
- Low calories (around 100 per serving)
- Low-to-no saturated fat
Check out the shake reviews on this site to find the best meal replacement shake for you to help enhance your overall health and manage your cholesterol levels.