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Food Is Medicine: Cholesterol

Learn more about cholesterol and its impact on our bodies in this episode of Food is Medicine.


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Jim: Hey everyone, this is Jim and John, and we’re back for episode number two of “Food is Medicine.” Today, our topic of discussion is cholesterol. As you can see, we’ve set up our old school background to create a familiar atmosphere. Understanding cholesterol and its significance is essential, so let’s start with why it’s important and what it actually is. John, could you shed some light on this?

Jon: Sure, cholesterol has always been a bit mysterious. We often associate it with negativity, but in reality, cholesterol is an essential component. It falls into the category of fats, one of the three types. Although not as common, cholesterol plays crucial roles in our bodies. It helps maintain cell walls, aids in the production of essential hormones like testosterone, progesterone, and vitamin D, and facilitates the transport of fats through the bloodstream, considering our body’s composition of water. Balancing cholesterol through proper nutrition and exercise is the key to maintaining good health.

Jim: You mentioned blood cholesterol, which is often discussed when it comes to high cholesterol foods and blood tests. How is cholesterol in food and cholesterol in the blood different or similar?

Jon: The molecules of cholesterol in food and cholesterol in the blood are essentially the same. However, there isn’t a direct conversion from dietary cholesterol to blood cholesterol. When we consume cholesterol from food, it undergoes breakdown processes that prevent it from fully converting into blood cholesterol. Interestingly, saturated fat is more strongly linked to blood cholesterol levels than dietary cholesterol. Therefore, when we refer to cholesterol in the blood, we usually mean the results we see in our blood tests, such as HDL and LDL. Later, we’ll delve further into those aspects.

Jim: Our podcast series, “Food is Medicine,” focuses on the relationship between food and health. So, which foods contain cholesterol? Are some foods higher in cholesterol than others?

Jon: When we examine cholesterol or any other nutrient in food, we must understand that these nutrients serve their own purpose and don’t consider our specific nutrient needs. Cholesterol is found in animal-based foods because animals, like humans, require cholesterol to produce steroid hormones and vitamin D. On the other hand, plants do not contain cholesterol. Instead, they contain other compounds, such as phytosterols, which may even help lower cholesterol levels. Foods like eggs, milk, chicken, and beef contain cholesterol, but it’s important to note that dietary cholesterol itself isn’t a major concern. As long as the overall diet is well-balanced, focusing on cholesterol alone is not necessary.

Jim: Speaking of cholesterol, we often hear about good cholesterol and bad cholesterol. Can you explain the difference between the two?

Jon: Certainly! The good cholesterol is known as HDL, which stands for high-density lipoprotein. HDL is heavier and consists of both fat and protein, making it soluble in the blood. It plays a role in returning cholesterol to the liver for recycling. On the other hand, LDL, or low-density lipoprotein, is often referred to as bad cholesterol. LDL’s primary function is to transport cholesterol from the liver to body tissues that require it for various purposes, such as hormone production and building cell walls. Both HDL and LDL play important roles in carrying fats throughout the body, and achieving a balance between them is essential for overall health.

Jim: Let’s say I have a high cholesterol score, like 240. If I were your client, what dietary recommendations would you provide to help lower it? Additionally, what about supplements?

Jon: If you were my client, I would recommend a more effective approach than simply eliminating animal-based foods from your diet. Adding soluble fiber, especially from plant-based sources, can help lower bad cholesterol. Soluble fiber binds to cholesterol, aiding in its excretion from the body. By doing so, we internally stimulate our bodies to produce more cholesterol, which helps to reduce blood cholesterol levels. Exercise is another factor that can raise HDL and lower LDL. A healthy mitochondrial function is beneficial in this regard as well.

When it comes to supplements, red rice yeast extract has shown significant effectiveness in reducing cholesterol. It functions similarly to statins, the drugs used to lower cholesterol levels. Including healthy fats, such as unsaturated fats from sources like nuts, seeds, and fatty fish like salmon, can help balance cholesterol levels. Other supplements like niacin, berberine, and certain soy ingredients, including tofu, have demonstrated positive effects. Ultimately, achieving balance in your diet is key. Strive for a healthy fat profile, incorporate fiber-rich foods, and supplement wisely with items like fish oil, olive oil, and canola oil.

Jim: Get a glimpse from John, our registered dietitian at Five Bridges. He mentioned that there is so much that goes into a healthy diet. We talk about Total Health at Five Bridges, which includes fitness, nutrition, and education. You don’t need to be a member of our club to take advantage of John’s services. If you have High Mark, Capital Blue, Cigna, United Health, Humana, or Aetna insurance, we have been successful in getting all his services covered. Stay tuned for an upcoming episode where we will discuss various topics. While we will touch on weight loss, we believe nutrition goes beyond just that. There are other important aspects to consider in your journey. Thank you for tuning in, and we look forward to seeing you in a future episode.

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