Monday, March 15, 2010

What is Cholesterol?

What is cholesterol? Cholesterol technically doesn’t contain fatty acids, but it is still classified as fat because it has some of the same chemical and physical characteristics. It can be consumed, but it is also made internally by the body at a baseline rate that varies between 800 and 1500 milligrams per day. It is made predominantly in the liver, but also in other tissues such as arteries and intestines.

Why does our body need cholesterol? Cholesterol builds plasmid membranes, so it is part of every cell membrane. It is needed for synthesizing vitamin D, hormones like estrogen, androgens and progesterone. It is absolutely an essential part of every cell of your body. Cholesterol has no calories. You can turn on the switch to produce cholesterol in your blood with diets that are high in saturated or trans-fats.

Endogenous cholesterol (made by your body) produced in your liver is almost always enough to meet the body’s needs. Therefore, there is no dietary requirement for cholesterol. Certainly we might all be familiar with medications that lower cholesterol. They actually block or turn off that cholesterol switch in the liver.

We sometimes eat cholesterol and only comes from animals. What are cholesterol rich foods? As a quick rule of thumb, for each ounce of meat there are 25 milligrams of cholesterol. Cholesterol is going to be found in the cell membrane, so it is actually in the flesh of the meat. We find the same amount of cholesterol for six ounces of chicken. Whole fat dairy products are an important source of cholesterol also.

The challenge is that eating cholesterol in the diet doesn’t necessarily translate into an increase in blood cholesterol. Saturated and trans-fats are the ones who turn on the switch of cholesterol production in the liver, and they are the most important causes of high cholesterol in the blood. Dietary cholesterol comes as a distant third. You may read stories in the newspaper that somebody ate 12 eggs a day and they lived to be 105. An egg is a source of cholesterol, but has very low amount of saturated fat.

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