Cholesterol gets a bad rap but it also plays some very important roles. Cholesterol is an essential fat and is required by all cell membranes in the human body. We also require cholesterol for some of our bodily functions including the production of certain hormones and bile acid. It is when we have too much cholesterol that it becomes a problem.
Why is it a problem?
Cholesterol is transported around our body in our blood. Too much of it can build up in our arteries, causing damage and leading to heart disease.
What is cholesterol?
Around ¾ of the cholesterol in our body is actually produced by our liver. The rest will come via our dietary intake of fats. Funnily enough, the cholesterol in food actually has a very minimal impact on our blood cholesterol whereas saturated fat will have a large influence. As with all body anatomy and physiology, cholesterol can be a complex thing to explain.
Let’s keep it relatively simple and break it down…
Cholesterol is carried in the blood in lipoproteins (particles containing differing amounts of protein, triglycerides and cholesterol). These lipoproteins are classified by their size. Your total blood cholesterol is a measure of the cholesterol components LDL (low-density lipoprotein) cholesterol, HDL (high-density lipoprotein) cholesterol, and VLDL (very low-density lipoprotein, which is the triglyceride-carrying component of lipids). Total cholesterol values cannot be interpreted in the absence of the cholesterol components.
The following table summarises their functions and characteristics and will help you to understand what cholesterol actually is and what those abbreviations on your blood tests mean.
What do your blood test results mean?
Now that you have some background information on cholesterol makeup, it should be easier to make sense of your blood test results. The ideal figures below are for healthy individuals and people with a history of heart disease or diabetes, as outlined.
How does diet impact your lipoprotein levels?
The table below shows how the different dietary fats affect the makeup of your lipoproteins. Source: Essential of Human Nutrition 
By maintaining a healthy diet you will go a long way to ensure safe cholesterol levels
Saturated fat, trans fat and cholesterol in the food you eat will increase your cholesterol levels. Try to reduce the amount of saturated fat, trans fat and cholesterol in your diet. This will help lower your blood cholesterol level. Saturated fat and trans fat have the most impact on blood cholesterol. Keeping your cholesterol levels healthy is a great way to keep your heart healthy and lower your chances of developing heart disease or having a stroke.
Contact us for results focused nutritional advice
This article was written by our dietitian Belinda Elwin who is a Dietitians Association of Australia member and Accredited Practising Dietitian and Nutritionist. If you have questions about dietary control of high cholesterol and triglyceride levels, make an appointment. We‘ll provide you with a simple and effective routine targeted to your concerns. Contact us today!
1. Mann, J., & Truswell S. (2007). Essentials of Human Nutrition. 3rd ED. Oxford: Oxford University Press.