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Cholesterol. . . Not Bad After All

Aug 17, 2007
Do you know that total amount fat and cholesterol in the diet whether high or low, has no real link to heart diseases as widely believed? Rather it is the type of fat in diet that matters.

There are bad fats that increase risk to certain diseases and good fats that lower this risk. Cholesterol in food is not exactly a health problem. Infact dietary cholesterol is not exactly linked to heart disease.

Heart disease may be caused by high blood cholesterol i.e. the cholesterol circulating in your blood. Surprisingly, amount of diet cholesterol is not linked to blood cholesterol levels. The biggest influence on blood cholesterol level is the mix of types of fats in the diet. That is the mix of saturated, unsaturated and trans fats.

Cholesterol is a wax like substance made by the liver. It falls in the family of nutrients called lipids. It is used to construct and in the functioning of cell membranes and other organelles. Once synthesized by the liver, it is linked to proteins called lipoproteins which are then released into the blood stream to supply all the body cells with cholesterol.

Blood Cholesterol:

Too much cholesterol in the blood can result to it building inside arteries. These deposits are called plaque. They can actually narrow arteries enough to slow or block blood flow. This condition is called atherosclerosis. This unfortunately occurs in arteries close to the heart. Plaque at times raptures causing blood clots that can lead to a heart attack, stroke or sudden death.

The good news is that cholesterol build up can be slowed, stopped and even possibly reversed.

In the cholesterol transport in blood, low density lipoproteins i.e. LDL carry cholesterol from liver into the blood to supply the body so when LDL is in excess, it can be deposited on arteries. Hence LDL cholesterol is called bad cholesterol.

On the other hand high density lipoproteins i.e. HDL carry cholesterol from the blood back to the liver which processes cholesterol for elimination from the body. So, high HDL reduces the chance of excess cholesterol in the blood being deposited on arteries.
Therefore HDL is called the good cholesterol.

This then means a higher level LDL and lower levels of HDL shows a high risk of heart disease. An important determinant of blood cholesterol is specific fats in diet. Research shows that there are some types of fats that are clearly good for blood cholesterol and others that are bad. Though dietary cholesterol does not affect, blood cholesterol as badly as it is widely believed.

Fat And Cholesterol

For example, mono-saturated fats e.g. olive oil, canola oil, peanut oil, cashew nuts, almond, peanuts and generally most nuts and avocados. All these lower the LDL and raise the HDL meaning they are good sources of fat.

Poly unsaturated fats e.g. corn, safflower, cotton seed oil, fish. These lower LDL and also raise HDL. These are also excellent sources of fat.

Saturated fat e.g. found in whole milk, butter, cheese, ice-cream, red meat, chocolate, coconut, coconut milk and coconut oil all raise both LDL and HDL. Not really good sources as they raise both the good and bad cholesterol.

Trans-Fats which consist of mainly margarines, vegetable shortenings, partially hydrogenated vegetable oil, deep fried chips, many fast foods, as well as most commercially baked foods. All these raise LDL meaning it is the worst source of fats. And funnily probably the most consumed.

Formally, eggs demonized for high cholesterol level are now proving scientifically that they are not directly linked to increase in heart disease in healthy individuals. Its moderate use as food is encouraged. It further contains extra nutrients e.g. proteins, vitamin B12 and vitamin D.

But diabetic and high cholesterol individuals should proceed with caution. Diabetics can have 2 - 3 eggs a week, while high cholesterol individuals should avoid the egg yolk due to its high cholesterol.

The poorer sources of fat i.e. saturated fats are mainly found in animal based foods. So it is advisable to eat the leanest form of beef more often than the fatty cuts. Trans fats are produced by heating liquid vegetable oil in pressure of hydrogen i.e. hydrogenation. The more hydrogenated the harder it is at room temperature. These trans-fats are used in many snacks, processed foods.

The better sources of fat and consequently those that lower blood cholesterol are mostly plant based.

So, what really matters more in your diet or nutrition is not quantity of fat but rather the type. Infact, there is evidence that high intake of unsaturated fats lower risk of heart attack. Fish an important source of the poly-saturated fat known as omega-3 has received much attention in lowering risk of heart disease.

This is so much so that the American Heart Association currently recommends that everyone should eat at least two servings of fish a week. Mono-saturated fats have also been related to reduced cancer.

There is also a misconception that the more fat you eat the more weight you gain, so completely cut down on fat. As much as the first statement is true to some extent, the most prudent thing to do to cut weight is take in fewer calories than you use in a day. This you do by reducing your daily portion without eliminating any nutrient and increasing your exercising.

But for those of you who have tried these two, you now know diets and exercises alone are not enough for permanent weight loss. Indeed they are only two of the Top 4 Reasons you fail in losing weight.
About the Author
Mark Kimathi writes about Weight Loss-Top 4 Reasons for Failure at Health-eMark.com and related topics like obesity.
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