Diabetes and Heart Health: The Cholesterol Comeback
Since diabetes is associated with increased risk of heart disease, doctors have likely discussed with you the benefits of a low cholesterol diet.
However, earlier this year, the Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee (DGAC) acknowledged what science demonstrates, that “cholesterol is not considered a nutrient of concern for overconsumption.”
Though the 2015 Dietary Guidelines for Americans are still being tweaked, the DGAC’s altered cholesterol recommendations are expected to be in the final report.
In the meantime, we dazed and confused consumers can begin to reeducate ourselves about this waxy substance our body requires. Since September is National Cholesterol Education Month, we can begin by looking at how cholesterol benefits our health, and a few ways to optimize our cholesterol levels.
It’s What the Body Needs
Good health depends on interactions among the trillions of particles - including cholesterol - that make up our body. As with many of these substances, cholesterol plays several roles in the story of our well-being, for instance:
- Cholesterol is essential for healthy cell membranes, it insulates nerve cells, and research indicates it interfaces with the proteins in our cells.
- Cholesterol is a precursor of bile acids that are necessary for the digestion of dietary fat.
- One quarter of our body’s cholesterol inhabits the brain. Cholesterol is vital for synapse development—those connections between neurons necessary for learning, thought, and memory formation.
- Low blood levels of HDL cholesterol is associated with Alzheimer’s disease, memory loss, stroke, depression, aggressive behavior, and suicide.
- Cholesterol is involved in hormone production, including progesterone, testosterone, and estrogen.
- The cholesterol in our skin, when activated by sunlight, changes into vitamin D.
Only 20 percent of our cholesterol comes from the food we eat. The remainder is manufactured in the liver, another indication of how important cholesterol is to our health.
The primary way to safely influence our cholesterol is (no surprise) through wise diet and lifestyle choices. For instance, reducing our intake of carbs and sugars, eating plenty of raw foods, and getting enough high-quality, animal-based omega 3 fats (e.g., fish oil, krill oil) are known cholesterol boosters.
Replacing polyunsaturated vegetable oils, and trans fats, with healthier fats such as olive oil, butter, and coconut oil, plus enjoying regular exercise optimizes cholesterol levels. We might also choose to eat more liver and beef from grass fed animals, and more eggs—all cholesterol-rich foods.
However, be sure to discuss the new dietary guidelines, and any dietary changes you are considering with your doctor or dietitian. What is best for you depends on your unique body type and health history.