Cholesterol is a waxy, fatty substance (a lipid) that is normally present in the body. Although we are often warned of the dangers of cholesterol, we can’t survive without it. It is essential for the body’s cell membranes, the insulation of nerves and the production of certain hormones. It is also used by the liver to make bile acids, which help digest your food. High blood cholesterol is a ‘risk-factor’ for heart disease. This means that having high blood cholesterol increases your chances of getting heart disease. This higher your cholesterol level the greater your chances of dying of heart disease. You can lower your risk of heart disease by lowering your cholesterol level.
Two specific kinds of blood cholesterol are called ‘high density lipoproteins (HDL)’and ‘low density lipoproteins (LDL)’. HDL helps the body drive cholesterol out of the blood into the cells where it is needed while LDL causes cholesterol to build up on the walls of arteries through a process called ‘atherosclerosis’ creating narrowed or blocked arteries. As a result of this atherosclerosis, there is reduced blood flow to the coronary (heart) arteries which can lead to chest pain. If the flow of blood to a part of the heart is stopped it can lead to heart attack; a stroke occurs if same happens to a part of the brain.
High cholesterol results from many causes such as genetics, various disease states, lifestyle choices and diet. Diets high in cholesterol and saturated fats can increase blood cholesterol levels. Saturated fats, mainly from meat and dairy products, can raise blood cholesterol levels and can increase the risk of atherosclerosis. Unsaturated fat does not increase blood cholesterol and can sometimes lower the cholesterol level.
Due to high cholesterol, most people start to cut down on foods with high cholesterol content. However, restricting cholesterol intake alone is not enough to lower the levels. A truly effective cholesterol lowering diet is one where total fat is reduced/restricted, has the right balance of the types of fat, is high is soluble fiber and includes vitamins.
To reduce total fat intake, choose foods that have a low fat content where possible – not more than 30% of the total kilojoules (KJ) should come from fat. To calculate this, multiply the grams of fat by 38 and divide this by the total KJ. Multiply by 100 to reach a percentage. Limit how much concentrated fat you eat such as oil and margarine. Avoid frying foods – rather grill, bake, steam, poach, microwave or boil your food.
This article was culled from the information manual on Cholesterol by Clina-lancet Laboratories and it will be concluded next week.