Contrary to popular belief, cholesterol is not a villain lurking in evil foods. It is a compound the body makes and uses. Cholesterol is a component of all animal and human cell membranes, nerves, and brain tissues, and is the precursor of estrogen, testosterone, adrenal hormones (cortisol), bile acids, and vitamin D.
Cholesterol is one of the most famous of the sterols, or compounds found in both plants and animals. Some people, confused about the distinction between dietary cholesterol and blood cholesterol, have asked which foods contain the "good" cholesterol. "Good" cholesterol is not a type of cholesterol found in foods, but rather the way the body transports cholesterol in the blood.
The blood cholesterol linked to heart disease is LDL cholesterol. The LDL, or Low Density Lipoproteins transport their contents throughout the body for cells to build new membranes, make hormones, or store for later use. Special LDL receptors on the Liver cells play a crucial roll in the control of blood cholesterol concentrations by removing LDL cholesterol from the circulation.
HDL, or High Density Lipoproteins, also carry cholesterol in the reverse way; by returning it from the body back to the liver for breakdown and excretion. This is why HDL cholesterol seems to have a protective effect in regards to cardiovascular disease. Fats and excess cholesterol are passed from the liver into the digestive tract through bile, formed by the Gallbladder, where they then bind to dietary fiber and plant based sterols, and are removed from the body.
Cardiovascular disease begins when the excess LDL cholesterol begins to stick to the arterial walls, which later "calcifies" or hardens, restricting blood flow, and overworks the heart. A surge in blood pressure can cause these calcified clumps to break lose and lodge in smaller arteries, (similar to blood clots), resulting in damaged arteries, aneurysms, organ damage, strokes, and death.
Saturated fats and trans fats have more of an effect on the blood cholesterol than foods containing cholesterol. The liver manufactures cholesterol from fragments of carbohydrate, protein and fat.
Adding plant sterols to the diet is one simple and effective way to manage and lower LDL cholesterol. Plant sterols, sometimes called phytosterols, are naturally found in some vegetable oils, nuts, whole grains, fruits, and vegetables. They raise HDL cholesterol, which, in turn lowers the LDL cholesterol.
Insoluble fiber, such as the type found in whole grains (bran, for instance) vegetables, fruits, seeds and nuts, are the fibers that work best at binding both the cholesterol that is ingested from the diet and that which is excreted by the liver bile. Mono and polyunsaturated fats support HDL cholesterol production also.
For more information on foods that lower cholesterol visit WebMD.com