Cholesterol – know your HDL from your LDL

Cholesterol is a vital substance that exists in the body without us even eating any! When it comes to your health, you need to know your HDL from your LDL.

Approx read time: 6 mins

The word cholesterol seems to bring about all sorts of worry and anxiety, like simply just having cholesterol in your body is a bad and sinister thing and a guaranteed route to a heart attack.

Not so.

Cholesterol is vital

Cholesterol is a vital substance that exists in the body without us even eating any. We make about 80% of the cholesterol we need. It’s a waxy substance and it forms the make up of all cells, helps with vitamin D and hormone production as well as helping food digestion.

There are two key types of cholesterol that we’ll talk about here as they’re the ones you’ll hear about most often. In fact that’s not quite true, there are two key types of WRAPPER that cholesterol moves around the body in. The wrappers are made of proteins.

Know your HDL from your LDL

So cholesterol goes about the body wrapped in a protein layer:

💛 One type of wrapping is called HDL – high density lipoprotein.
👾 Another is LDL – low density lipoprotein.

LDL has a thin wrapper and carries more cholesterol inside it that can leak out (this is a v simplified description!) whereas HDL has a thick wrapper, and is very helpful, like a cleaner, because it comes along mopping up LDL’s spills. So HDL, the ‘good’ one, is like a cholesterol nanny. It gathers it up and carries it safely back to the liver. The liver breaks it down or helps to move it out of the body (so does porridge by the way!)

LDL on the other hand, is made up of kind of tiny bullet-like structures (as well as bigger fluffier ones). The little bullet ones ping about in your vessels causing damage to the vessel wall. And as LDL’s wrapper is kinda unstable it can spill its load of cholesterol that then clings to the damaged areas and builds up into plaque.

Think of scouring a wood surface hard with a Brillo pad and how dirt and stuff would collect there rather than collecting on a smooth surface. Blood vessels are not only damaged by the ‘pingers’ but by chronic inflammation caused by poor diet, obesity, stress, lack of sleep, alcohol, pollution and so on. May as well Brillo pad the inside of all your blood vessels instead.

Always ask for your HDL/LDL ratio

So when you get your cholesterol measured they give you an overall figure. That figure is pretty meaningless unless you know how much of it is made up of HDL, the good one. They don’t generally tell you this unless you ask, and they don’t even always have the figures ¯\_(ツ)_/¯ Mad.

The acceptable figure for overall cholesterol has been lowered over the years, regardless of the HDL/LDL ratio.

  • 5mmol/L or less for healthy adults
  • 4mmol/L or less for those at high risk

But how much of that is HDL? Who knows, let’s just panic about it anyway!

Statins 😕

Here’s a view of mine (it is literally a VIEW and  THOUGHT and you may hold a different one, or know the facts and that’s good):

Drugs companies make billions of pounds from the sale of statins, the drugs used to control cholesterol, seemingly riding on the back of all this panic. Something like £19.2b in 2017 with a 5% predicted annual growth over the next five years. It’s serious money.

Whether GPs are incentivised to prescribe these drugs I don’t know, probably not although drugs companies have to be pretty persuasive I would think in order to retain and grow their £billions, but I will leave that here for you to think about and tell me it’s not true! Statins are not without their fairly serious side effects although you must always follow your GP’s advice – I would always deeply question things, find out as much as you can and perhaps ask about other approaches too.

That said – there is a condition called familial hypercholesterolemia, which is a different ball game that one absolutely doesn’t mess with.

And by the way, our members’ cholesterol levels often come out between 4–6 but have a really fab ratio of total cholesterol to HDL.

If you know all your figures you can use this calculator.

Your LDL (the unstable one) will usually be higher if you’re eating:

  • poor quality foods,
  • not enough of a ratio of good fats from olive oil, oily fish, nuts and seeds and
  • if you’re inactive and overweight and don’t eat enough fibre

Fibre actually absorbs cholesterol and carries it through and out of the body, hence my porridge info above. Oats are a particular type of fibre that kind of form a slippery mass that trips its way through your insides taking passengers.

What about Nuush and its whole fat foods?

Nuush is a whole fat diet!

Cholesterol – know your HDL from your LDL

So when we write the Nutrition for Everyone plan and a meal calls for cream, milk, cheese or any such thing it will be the ‘whole fat type’ rather than reduced fat because that’s what we have evolved to eat. It carries the full set of fat soluble vitamins.

We carefully factor those fats in with a diet that majors on veg, whole grains, beans and pulses and fruit with ‘some’ fish, poultry and meat, in that order. So yes members might have double cream in their quiche for dinner but they’re not eating high fat snacks in between and they’re not having double cream every day.

Members are also encouraged to be regularly active, to restore body and mind via stress-relieving activities and sleep, and to connect with people and nature, all of which contribute to health hugely.

What if your cholesterol is high?

You should always take your GP’s advice but when you do please research and ask questions so you can be sure things are being done as they should be. You should absolutely know the breakdown of HDL and LDL and find out your cholesterol ratio. It’s not all about statins; lifestyle changes can help hugely too – ask about them – question question question.

Never take advice from the internet without talking to a qualified medical professional about it first but you can use the internet to stimulate questions that you might like to ask your doctor.

Bring the joy back

Just eat beautiful, real food with the Nutrition for Everyone plan from Nuush. Bring the joy back to food, eating and life.

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Thank you for reading this article. Please note that while we share a lot of awesome information and research you should be aware our articles are strictly for informational purposes and do not constitute medical advice intended to diagnose, cure, treat or prevent any disease.

Cover photo by corinnabarbara from Pixabay.