Healthy Eating

 

A Word About Cholesterol


Everyone Knows It's Bad. But Do They Know Why?

Your body actually needs cholesterol. Cholesterol helps in formation of cell membranes and vitamin D. But when you have too much cholesterol in your system, problems come a 'knockin.

Cholesterol is like wax, and when there is too much of it in your blood stream, it starts to stick to the walls of your arteries. This residue, called plaque, makes the space where blood can flow smaller, constricting blood flow. Plaque can make the space so small--so clogged--that blood flow actually stops.

Proper Cholesterol Levels

The National Cholesterol Education Program recommends the following optimal levels for adults 20 years or older:

  • Total cholesterol less than 200 milligrams per deciliter (mg/dl)
  • HDL cholesterol levels greater than 40 mg/dl
  • LDL cholesterol levels less than 100 mg/dl

Clogged Arteries Equal Heart Problems

Not surprisingly, a build-up of plaque in your arteries puts strain on your heart. Blood flow is hampered and as a result, the heart may not receive enough oxygen or nutrients--causing chest pain. Plaque may also rupture and create blood clots, and eventually lead to heart attack or stroke.

Sounds Terrible. What Can You Do to Protect Yourself?

Fortunately, a lot. Cholesterol problems can often be slowed, stopped, or even reversed. There are two types of lipoproteins that carry cholesterol through the blood stream: LDL (Low-Density Lipoprotein) and HDL (High-Density Lipoprotein). LDLs--often called the 'bad' cholesterol--are at the root of cholesterol problems. The reason is because when there are too many LDLs in the bloodstream, they tend to create build up on the walls of your arteries--creating plaque. HDLs, on the other hand, are much less likely to create build-up. HDLs are, therefore, called the 'good' cholesterol.

So What Foods Lower LDLs and Increase HDLs ?

As it turns out, the most important dietary factor in determining the type of cholesterol in your system is fat. Good fats--unsaturated fats--increase your good cholesterol. Bad fats--saturated fat and trans fat--raise your bad cholesterol. Here is a table (which you may remember from the section on fat) that shows what foods contain good fats and what foods contain bad fats:

 

Nutritive Value of Foods, USDA
Quetion Unsaturated Fat Saturated Fat Trans Fat
Type of cholesterol? HDLs - The good kind LDLs- The bad kind LDLs - The worst kind
What food is it in? Seafood, Nuts
Certain oils: olives, corn, peanut, canola
Red Meat
Butter
Cheese
Ice Cream
Chocolate
French Fries
Many Fried Foods
Processed Baked Goods

 

Doctor Knows Best

If you have never had your cholesterol tested, we recommend doing so. Cholesterol can cause serious problems. But the good news is that if you have bad cholesterol, you have options. Have your doctor measure your cholesterol and discuss personal recommendations with you.

Now let's take a look at two items common in many people's diets: Caffeine and Alcohol.

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