Cholesterol has become a household name, and a worrying one at that. Many people these days are fretting about their cholesterol levels and taking drastic measures to keep them as low as possible. But what exactly is cholesterol and what purpose does it serve in our bodies?
What are the dangers when levels get too high? In this article we will discuss the role that cholesterol plays in our well-being and how we can keep cholesterol at healthy levels in our bodies by adjusting our diet.
We will look at the foods that make your cholesterol levels sky rocket and how you can replace these high cholesterol foods with less harmful alternative.
What is Cholesterol and why do you need it?
Believe it or not, we need cholesterol in our bodies to function healthily.  This soft, fatty substance is found throughout your body, in your blood and every one of your cells.
It is incredibly important for the production of cell membranes, hormones and even the formation of memories and other vital neurological functions. 
Your liver is responsible for producing around 75% of your cholesterol. 
It is distributed around the body and allows you to make vitamin D and bile acids. 
What are the Dangers of High Cholesterol?
There are two types of cholesterol: high-density lipoprotein (HDL) and low-density lipoprotein (LDL).  The first is the good type of cholesterol, which helps keep your arteries clear of plaque and cholesterol.
The second, however, is the bad kind of cholesterol which can build up in your arteries, making them narrower and leaving you susceptible to a clot, heart attack or stroke. A high cholesterol level essentially means there is too much cholesterol in your blood, and this can be established with a simple blood test from your doctor. 
It should be noted that your overall cholesterol level is the combination of both HDL and LDL.
Having a cholesterol level that is too high is a serious problem because excess cholesterol means that some LDL may be deposited in your arteries.  This can cause the build-up of plaque in the arteries, which is a mixture of fat, cholesterol and other substances which harden together. 
Build-up of plaque causes narrowing of the arteries which puts extra strain on your heart as it is more difficult for the blood to pass through the arteries. At the very least this can cause pain or pressure, but at worst can lead to a heart attack or a stroke.
High cholesterol can not only damage your circulatory system but leaves your digestive system at risk too. Excess cholesterol can create an imbalance in bile levels which can cause gallstones.  Symptoms such as vomiting and abdominal pain could also be a sign that the blood flow to your kidneys or stomach is blocked by plaque in your arteries. 
Which Foods Should You Avoid?
High cholesterol foods are one of our biggest problems when it comes to high cholesterol levels. There are several foods that make your cholesterol levels spike.
These are primarily foods high in saturated fat, and include the following:
- Butter, margarines and lards
- Fatty meats such as sausages
- Cheese, cream and milk, particularly full fat varieties 
- Fast foods including hamburgers, tacos and fried chicken 
Another family of foods that are particularly harmful for those with high cholesterol levels are those containing hydrogenated fat, such as certain muffins and cakes.  Chocolate, pastries, pies, toffee and many types of biscuits are also common culprits for causing cholesterol levels to soar.  You should also avoid excessive amounts of alcohol , as this will cause your cholesterol level to increase.
High cholesterol foods are not the only thing that can cause your cholesterol to reach unhealthy levels. Emotional stress, smoking and lack of exercise also play a significant role, and these are things you will want to make the effort to change if you suffer from high cholesterol.
Which Foods will help lower your Cholesterol Levels?
While saturated fats cause your cholesterol levels to increase, unsaturated fats help lower your cholesterol level.  There are simple substitutions you can make to take care of your high cholesterol.
Swap out butter and oils for vegetables oils like olive or canola oil. 
Rather than eating ribs, hot dogs, bacon or other similar processed fatty meats, try skinless chicken, pork, lamb or fish. As plants do not contain cholesterol, every now and again go for a meal that misses out meat altogether; there are plenty of tasty vegetarian recipes online that you can try.
While you avoid processed and fatty meats, it is still important that you are getting the important benefits of healthy animal fats such as omega-3 fats.  You can get omega-3 from oily fish, but it may be more convenient to supplement it, as you are ensuring you get optimum levels that are difficult to achieve from diet alone.
Eating plenty of vegetables is always good advice, and eating a good portion of your food raw is a good way of naturally lowering your cholesterol level.  Seeds and nuts are a good option to replace unhealthy snacks, as they are still crunchy, filling and satisfying.
Concerned about your Cholesterol Level?
If you are particularly worried about your cholesterol level it is important that you visit your doctor and have your cholesterol tested. It should be noted that low levels of cholesterol can cause problems too, including depression, aggression and even Parkinson’s disease. 
This is partly to do with the link between low levels of cholesterol and decreased serotonin activity in the brain. You should therefore have your cholesterol level tested before attempting to lower it through diet or other means.
Anyone over the age of 20 should have their cholesterol tested every 5 years and more often if their levels are known to be particularly high.