Cholesterol is a waxy, fat-like substance found in the walls of cells in all parts of the body, from the nervous system to the liver to the heart. The body uses cholesterol to make hormones, bile acids, vitamin D, and other substances.
Trans fat is found mostly in foods that have been hydrogenated. Hydrogenation is a process in which hydrogen is added to unsaturated fat to make it more stable and solid at room temperature. Some trans fat also occurs naturally in animal fats, such as dairy products and some meat products.
The main sources of trans fat in the diet are from partially hydrogenated (hardened) oils found in foods such as cookies, crackers, pastries and fried foods. These fats are added for taste, texture and to maintain freshness or extend shelf life.
The main concern with trans fat is that it raises the risk of coronary heart disease by increasing LDL cholesterol and lowering HDL cholesterol.
Plant sterols, sometimes called phytosterols, are naturally occurring chemicals found in plants. They are also found naturally in some vegetable oils, nuts, grain products, fruits and vegetables. The plant sterols used in food products are taken from soybean and tall pine-tree oils, combined with a small amount of canola oil.
Although the details are not fully understood, plant sterols have a similar chemical structure as cholesterol. Some studies have shown LDL cholesterol lowering effect. The American Heart Association’s (AHA) Therapeutic Lifestyle Changes diet2 recommends an intake of 2g of plant sterols a day for LDL cholesterol lowering effect.
Plant sterols in the form of supplements should be minimized. This is because excessive consumption of plant sterols may affect the absorption of fat-soluble vitamins.
There are no obvious symptoms associated with high blood cholesterol level. You can go for a routine blood test to determine your body’s cholesterol level.
Various factors can cause unhealthy cholesterol levels
Our liver produces most of the cholesterol found in our body; the rest of the cholesterol is contributed by the foods we eat.
Dietary cholesterol comes only from foods of animal origin, such as liver and other organ meats; egg yolks (but not the whites, which have no cholesterol); shrimp; and whole milk dairy products, including butter, cream, and cheese.
Cholesterol circulates in the bloodstream in packages called lipoproteins, which is a combination of cholesterol and protein. There are 2 main kinds of lipoproteins:
If there is too much cholesterol in the blood, some of the excess can become trapped in artery walls. Over time, this builds up as ‘plaque’. The plaque can narrow vessels and make them less flexible, a condition called atherosclerosis or “hardening of the arteries”. This can happen to blood vessels anywhere in the body, including those of the heart, which are called the coronary arteries. When atherosclerosis affects the coronary arteries, the condition is called coronary heart disease or coronary artery disease.