The Two Faces of Cholesterol

By Perrin Braun, August 1, 2022

foods that impact cholesterolAre you worried about your cholesterol? Your doctor may have told you to lower your cholesterol levels, but it’s important to understand that the story of cholesterol is complex.


Cholesterol 101

So, what is cholesterol? Cholesterol is a waxy substance that is found in all the cells of the body. You need some cholesterol to make hormones, vitamin D, and substances that help you digest foods. Your body makes all the cholesterol it needs, and it is also is found in some of the foods you eat. Cholesterol travels through your bloodstream in small units called lipoproteins, which are made out of both fat and protein. In addition to being naturally produced by your body, cholesterol can also come from food, mainly animal products. The most well-known cholesterol-culprits are eggs and shellfish, but foods that are rich in saturated fats (such as red meat) can be dangerous because the liver turns this fat into cholesterol. Weight, exercise, and heredity can also play a role in cholesterol levels.


The different types of cholesterol

There are two different types of cholesterol: low-density lipoproteins (LDL) and high-density lipoproteins (HDL). High levels of LDL can result in a buildup of cholesterol in your arteries, which are the blood vessels that carry blood from your heart to your body. Eventually, LDL cholesterol can enter your blood vessel walls and begin to build up under the lining of your vessels, which can result in a restricted blood flow. In contrast, HDLs act as cholesterol scavengers, carrying cholesterol from other parts of your body back to your liver, which removes it from your body.

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Non-optimal cholesterol levels usually do not come with any symptoms, so it’s difficult to tell if your cholesterol levels are healthy unless you get your blood tested at your annual physical or from a blood analysis program like InsideTracker. You fall into a risk category for heart disease if you have an LDL level of 190 or higher. However, in addition to your levels of LDL and total cholesterol, you should also be taking into consideration other risk factors (such as diabetes and previous history of heart conditions), as well as emphasizing lifestyle management, which is exactly what InsideTracker plans help you to do!



Is high cholesterol problematic for everyone?

The American College of Cardiology and the American Heart Association recently released revised cholesterol treatment guidelines that are designed to reduce the risk for heart attack and stroke. One of the important changes in these guidelines is the removal of numerical target goals for LDL and non-HDL cholesterol. Instead, doctors are now being urged to assess a patient’s risk more broadly, and prescribe statins (cholesterol-lowering drugs) to patients who fall into one of four risk categories:

already have had a heart attack, stroke, or symptom of cardiovascular disease; have an LDL level of 190 or higher (which is often a result of genetics); have diabetes; or are between the ages of 40 and 79 and face a 7.5 percent risk of having a heart attack over the next 10 years (using the new risk scoring system, which takes into account smoking status, blood pressure, and cholesterol level, among other factors).

Cholesterol (HDL, LDL, and total) is one of the many biomarkers that InsideTracker monitors, so if your levels are unhealthy, the program will let you know what steps you need to take to fix it!


Foods to lower your LDL cholesterol levels

Nutrition plays a large role in stabilizing your cholesterol levels, since much of our blood cholesterol is derived from our diet. What’s important is decreasing LDL cholesterol while maintaining levels of HDL cholesterol. So you need to replace unhealthy fats with healthy fats and unrefined carbs.  Here are some heart-healthy foods that may be helpful in lowering your LDL cholesterol.

foods to improve cholesterol


This little grain is a great choice for those of you who are conscious about your cholesterol. Oats contain soluble fiber, which reduces LDL cholesterol by blocking the absorption of cholesterol into your bloodstream. The Institute of Medicine recommends that children and adults consume 14 grams of fiber for every 1,000 calories of food they eat each day, which means that means a person who eats 2,500 calories each day should get at least 35 grams of fiber daily. Eating 1 ½ cups of cooked oatmeal provides about 6 grams of fiber. Soluble fiber is also found in foods like pears, bananas, apples, and prunes, so if you add those fruits to your oatmeal, you’ll be boosting your fiber intake even more!


Specifically, fatty fish has high levels of omega-3 fatty acids, which have been shown to improve blood cholesterol levels. Omega-3s are essential oils, meaning that the body can’t make them on its own and they are vital for immune function and cell growth, among other bodily functions. Essentially, high levels of omega-3 fatty acids can reduce your blood pressure and risk of developing blood clots. The types of fish that have the highest omega-3 content are mackerel, herring, sardines, albacore tuna, salmon, and halibut. If you don’t eat fish, foods like ground flaxseed and canola oil are also high in the nutrient.


Walnuts and almonds in particular are rich in polyunsaturated fatty acids, which work to keep your blood vessels healthy. These fats may also protect against irregular heartbeats and help lower blood pressure levels.

Olive oil

Olive oil contains a mix of antioxidants that can lower your LDL cholesterol, but leave your “good” HDL cholesterol levels alone. The cholesterol-lowering effect of olive oil is increased if you choose the extra-virgin variety because it is less processed than the regular brands, which leaves most of the antioxidants intact. 

InsideTracker can provide you with a lot more in-depth nutrition and lifestyle information that can help you lower your levels of LDL cholesterol. If you have been diagnosed with this condition, make sure you work with your health care provider to monitor your progress. A low-fat diet combined with a sufficient amount of exercise can go a long way in helping you to manage your cholesterol!

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