Cholesterol is one of those "gotta have it, but don’t want to have too much, or the wrong kind" kind of nutrients. Cholesterol is absolutely necessary for the formation of certain hormones and essential for other basic cell functions. It is estimated that American’s daily dietary cholesterol intake is about 300-500 mg, and the oxidized version (will touch on this later) could account for up to 10 percent of this. The American Heart Association recommends no more than 300mg cholesterol from dietary sources, and also reminds us that the body, particularly the liver, produces its own cholesterol.
Cholesterol from eggs, pasture raised, grass fed meats, and dairy foods, when consumed with a whole foods-based diet, in moderation is not harmful. The oxidized or overcooked, CAFO sourced meat and other products are where we can run into trouble. A study from the Chinese University in Hong Kong isolated oxidized cholesterol in foods and found that it both increases total cholesterol levels and promotes atherosclerosis; the hardening of the arteries.
Oxycholesterol, or oxidized cholesterol, is generally formed when foods of animal origin (most contain trans fats) are heated and cooked at very high temperatures. When heated, cholesterol is oxidized (forming free radicals!) forming the new, dangerous union of oxygen and cholesterol. It is a well-known fact that high cholesterol levels pose a major health risk; The World Health Organization estimates that approximately 20 percent of all strokes and more than 50 percent of all heart attacks can be linked to high cholesterol.
There has been little research comparing oxidized cholesterol with non-oxidized cholesterol (LDLs and HDLs). The Chinese study involved feeding hamsters either a diet high in oxycholesterol or non-oxidized cholesterol; those in the former displayed total blood cholesterol increases of up to 22 percent versus the non-oxidized eaters. As well as a significant increase in blood cholesterol — or because of it — the oxy-eaters also demonstrated a greater deposition of cholesterol in the lining of their arteries.
For those watching their cholesterol, choosing meals can be a challenge. Here are some tips to keep you on track and your cholesterol levels health:
Avoid trans fat. Stay away from items that list "partially hydrogenated oil" on the label. Reading all food labels is essential, even if the nutrition facts states 0g trans fats.
Use fresh garlic when cooking. Garlic has been shown to help lower cholesterol levels.
Brew some green tea. The antioxidants in green tea help lower cholesterol and prevent the oxidation of LDL cholesterol.
Stock up on soluble fiber. Fiber, specifically soluble fiber, helps lower cholesterol by binding with it in the digestive tract and helping it pass through the body. Choose beans and lentils, apples, oats, barley, carrots, and freshly ground flaxseed.
Snack on almonds. Studies have demonstrated almonds ability to lower LDL cholesterol as well as blood sugar levels — yes a 1-2 punch.