Many who suffer from heart disease, high blood pressure, or who may have high triglycerides in their blood have heard of cholesterol but may wonder what exactly it is. Cholesterol is an essential substance needed to build cells. It is mostly made in the liver but every body cell can also make it. It is waxy and similar to fat. Cholesterol is classified as a sterol and it is greatly affected by fat intake. It specifically refers to:

• Dietary cholesterol or the cholesterol in food and is only in those foods that are animal based.

• HDL cholesterol are high density lipoproteins (tiny packages of a cholesterol and protein) that carry cholesterol and other blood lipids away from body cells to the liver to be broken down and then excreted. They are made in the body in response to physical activity and some foods. These are generally referred to as the “good” type of cholesterol.

• LDL cholesterol are low density lipoproteins (also a tiny packages with a higher ratio of cholesterol to protein) and circulate in your body carrying cholesterol and other lipids to your body cells. These types of cholesterol are known for depositing on artery and blood vessel walls (creating plaque buildup and therefore increasing blood pressure). They are made in the body, not eaten. Because of their tendency to leave a fatty buildup inside vessels, these are commonly referred to as the “bad” or “lousy” type of cholesterol, but they are still necessary.

Cholesterol is a part of every body cell and helps create some hormones, such as estrogen. The cholesterol found in your skin can also be converted by sunlight into vitamin D. Cholesterol also plays important roles in the breakdown and transport of fats in your body. Cholesterol is in bile, which is secreted by the gallbladder in the entry of the small intestine and helps to emulsify or breakdown fats. Cholesterol then continues to aid in the transport of fats because it is apart of lipoproteins (HDL and LDL). Lipoproteins, because of their protein coating, can carry fats into the bloodstream and take the fat where it needs to go.

Cholesterol is affected by triglycerides (the type of fat found in the blood and stored as adipose tissue) because they tell the liver to make more LDL cholesterol. Cholesterol is not usually affected by actual cholesterol eaten, but rather, the amount and type of fats eaten. However, this depends on your genetic makeup and how your cells respond.

Cholesterol is found in animal products such as eggs, meat, poultry, fish, and dairy foods. A diet high in solid fats is linked to higher blood cholesterol levels. Having high cholesterol increases your risk of heart disease and type 2 diabetes. However, it is important to note that infants under two years old do not produce enough cholesterol so it should be included in their diet.

Molly Roemer graduated with a degree in Dietetics from BYU and currently resides in Alamo. She enjoys food and family and seeks to enrich the lives of others through both. Email questions or comments to roemermolly@gmail.com.