For instance, cholesterol is an important precursor for sex and steroid hormones. It also provides structural support for every cell in our body, since cholesterol is a key component of cell membranes. Additionally, cholesterol is also needed to make the myelin sheath, which coats our nerve cells. Even though there has been a strong link established between high cholesterol and heart disease, we still need some cholesterol in our bodies.
On average, the liver makes approximately 80 percent of the cholesterol needed to carry out necessary processes in the body, and the rest comes from the diet. The National Cholesterol Education Program (NCEP) recommends that your daily consumption of cholesterol should not exceed 200 mg a day. However, the liver is capable of making all of the cholesterol needed to meet our daily requirements, so none of it really needs to come from the diet.
This can be deceiving because not only does cholesterol contribute to high cholesterol, but so do other fats, especially saturated fats and trans-fatty acids. Therefore, consuming high amounts of fats can also cause your cholesterol levels to be high. Because of this, NCEP recommends that:
- saturated fats consist of less than 7 percent of your total caloric intake.
- only very small amounts of trans-fatty acids should be consumed.
- monounsaturated fats and polyunsaturated fats, both of which are considered "good" fats, should take up no more than 20 percent and 10 percent of your total calorie intake each day.
Third Report of the National Cholesterol Education Program (NCEP) Expert Panel on Detection, Evaluation, and Treatment of High Blood Cholesterol in Adults (PDF), July 2004, The National Institutes of Heath: The National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute.