High cholesterol levels have long been known as a major health risk. As excess cholesterol builds up in the arteries, it forms plaque, a fatty deposit which can limit the amount of oxygen-rich blood that is able to flow to organs and other parts of the body. Ultimately, this buildup of plaque can lead to atherosclerosis, a stiffening and hardening of the arteries. Individuals with high cholesterol may not even be aware they have atherosclerosis until, ultimately, it results a medical emergency such as a heart attack or stroke.
Despite all of the risks associated with elevated cholesterol levels, the body needs some cholesterol in order to function, and it actually produces a sufficient amount on its own naturally. Cholesterol is used to make vitamin D, hormones like estrogen and testosterone, and bile acids, which are essential to regular digestion. It’s even a component in the membranes of our cells.
To understand how to keep cholesterol levels healthy, it’s essential for students to understand not only the dietary choices that may affect cholesterol levels, but also the difference between HDL and LDL, popularly known as “good” and “bad,” cholesterol.
What Makes Cholesterol Good or Bad
To understand what makes cholesterol good or bad, students in food technology training first need to look at how exactly cholesterol functions in the body.
Cholesterol is a lipid, which means that it’s a water-insoluble substance. Because of this, it needs to combine with a protein, forming what’s known as a lipoprotein, in order to travel through the blood.
Not all lipoproteins are created equal, however. Low-density lipoproteins (LDL) are made up of more cholesterol than protein. These are the lipoproteins that become lodged in arterial walls and ultimately lead to plaque buildup and all of the problems associated with high cholesterol. High-density lipoproteins (HDL), however, are more protein than cholesterol. They safely encapsulate the cholesterol they contain until it can be delivered to the liver, where it can be safely passed from the body. Not only that, but they pick up stray LDLs on the way and deliver those too.
Students With Food Technology Training Should Know What Raises HDL and Lowers LDL Cholesterol
There are several factors that can influence HDL and LDL cholesterol levels. Smoking has been shown to lower HDL levels, for example, and a lack of exercise is correlated with higher LDL levels. There is also a genetic component. One of the biggest controllable factors, though, is diet.
Students with a food technology certificate might already be aware of the different types of fats present in our diets. Saturated fats, found mostly in meat and dairy products, are associated with an increase in LDL, while unsaturated fats, found in fish and plant-based foods, can increase the rate at which bad cholesterol (LDL) is broken down. Trans fats are the most problematic and should be avoided. Found in fried and packaged foods, they not only increase LDL levels but also lower HDL.
Knowing the difference between LDL and HDL cholesterol will help students distinguish between healthy and unhealthy fats, and understand how these differences relate to food chemistry, processing, and regulations.
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