It plays important roles in cell membrane structure, certain hormones, and manufacturing vitamin D.
Our livers produce all of the cholesterol that we need for these important functions.
Excessive amounts can contribute to antherosclerosis or clogging of the arteries.
Cholesterol is found in all food from animal sources: meat, eggs, fish, poultry, and dairy products.
Some animal foods contribute substantial amounts of cholesterol, while others contribute only small amounts.
It is not found in any plant-derived foods.
Excessive amounts in your diet can increase its level in your blood, which can increase the risk of coronary heart disease.
You'll often hear it referred to as either good cholesterol or bad cholesterol.
To help in our understanding of the two and their differences, we first need to define the word "lipoproteins.
" These are packets of proteins, cholesterol, and triglycerides that are assembled by the liver and circulated in the blood.
When we talk about LDL, we're referring to low density lipoprotein cholesterol.
And when we refer to HDL, we're referring to high density lipoprotein cholesterol.
LDL, often referred to as "bad cholesterol," carries these fat-like substances through the bloodstream, dropping them off where they're needed for cell building and leaving behind any unused residue as plague on the walls of the arteries.
HDL, often referred to as "good cholesterol," picks up the fat-like residue which has been deposited in the arteries and brings it back to the liver for reprocessing or excretion.
You can easily understand why there's a distinction between the good and bad now that you understand the unique functions of each.
Saturated fats are usually from animal products such as lard, fats in meat and chicken skin, butter, ice cream, milk fat, cheese, etc.
Tropical oils such as coconut oil and palm oil are also highly saturated.
These fats are usually solid at room temperature.
You've undoubtedly heard from somewhere that you should keep your saturated fats to a minimum, but do you know why? Because these fats tend to increase your blood cholesterol levels, which in turn increases your risk of coronary heart disease.
Hydrogenated fats are those liquid vegetable oils than have been turned into solid saturated fats through a chemical process.
These fats also contribute to your blood cholesterol levels.
Polyunsaturated fats are liquid at room temperature and derived from plants.
Examples: safflower, corn, soybean, cottonseed and sunflower oils.
Polyunsaturated fats tend to lower LDL, but in excess can also lower your HDL.
Monounsaturated fats are also derived from plants.
These include olive oils and canola oil.
Replacing the saturated fats in your diet with monounsaturated fats can help to lower your LDL without lowering your HDL.
This is why monounsaturated fats are a healthy choice for your heart.
However, keep in mind that too much of any form of fat can contribute to obesity.
The bottomline: whenever you're making a choice about the fats you use, keep in mind that good heart health depends on keeping your LDL cholesterol low while maintaining your HDL.