What is a contributing factor to both the #1 and #3 cause of death in the United States? Take a guess&… Give up? If you guessed cholesterol, you we’re right on. If you guessed anything different, drop and give me 20.
Cholesterol, in the wrong proportions (there are different types to worry about), can cause heart disease, heart attacks, strokes, and can increase the likelihood of many other diseases. So if you know you have high cholesterol, or even if you think you might, there are certain things you can do to improve your numbers so your health is not such a ticking time bomb.
The three types of cholesterol you need to be aware of are low-density lipoproteins (LDLs), high-density lipoproteins (HDLs), and triglycerides.
- LDLs move cholesterol from the liver to the cells in your body. The cells in turn take fat and cholesterol from LDLs. The reason why this type is called the bad cholesterol is because it forms deposits in and on the inside surface of your coronary arteries and other arteries when too much of it is present in the blood. These deposits are called plaque, and when they build up, they restrict blood flow. Also, if a chunk of plaque breaks off of the artery wall, the chunk that broke off can cause a heart attack or stroke.
- HDLs are called good cholesterol because their job is to clean the extra LDLs out of your blood. HDLs take extra LDLs to your liver where the LDLs are processed and expelled.
- Triglycerides compose most of the dietary fat that we consume and that subsequently ends up circulating in our blood streams. Triglycerides are important to maintain optimal health. However, when there is too much for the body to work with, bad things happen with the extra fat floating around.
The body makes all the cholesterol it needs. Actually, it makes more that it needs. It used to be thought that eating extra cholesterol raised blood cholesterol levels, but studies have shown that that is not the case. Only statistically weak relationship has been shown between cholesterol intake and high cholesterol levels, for the average person. For those with heart disease and other conditions, cholesterol consumption should be limited.
If you need to eat your way to lower cholesterol levels, different organizations (Harvard School of Public Health ; American Heart Association ; Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research ) recommend different methods. The foods that should be avoided if you need to lower your cholesterol include:
- Processed meats that have a lot of fat
- Organ meats
- Whole milk products
- Eggs (mostly just the yolks)
- Meat that does not have the fat trimmed off when it is purchased
- Commercially baked goods
- Cooking oils that are high in saturated fat
- Fats that remain solid at room temperature
- Pretty much all fried foods
Other things that you can do to lower your cholesterol include:
- Get active. Do some excercise every day.
- Eat better, and include a variety of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, fat-free or low-fat milk products, lean meats with no fat attached, poultry with no skin, fatty fish, beans, peas and lentils, nuts, seeds, unsaturated vegetable oils
- Begin caring about your health and the health of your loved ones
- Learn and do a healthy lifestyle
The battle between good and evil is alive and well.
But not necessarily in the traditional sense.
A discussion about nutrition is not complete without taking a good, hard look at fats, and in seeing them for what they are. Some fats are good; some fats are not all good and not all bad; other fats are just down right evil to the core. This is how it all breaks down.
Any discussion involving the phrase &”Fats are bad for you&” is only partially correct. More than one kind of fat is actually good for you by improving your overall health. This statement may come as a surprise to most readers because American consumers are inundated with anti-fat propaganda from the health food industry, health departments around the world, and even our own mothers who believe what they have been told about fat, too. The fact is that fat is essential to good health —good fats, that is. Knowing how to separate the good from lesser quality fats could literally save your life.
Unsaturated fats are the good guys, and they are the good guys because they can improve your health overall. They are mostly found in vegetable oils, nuts, seeds, and fish. They are further categorized as monounsaturated fats and polyunsaturated fats.
Monounsaturated fats are easily found in:
- canola oil
- peanut oil
- olive oil
- various seeds (e.g. Pumpkin, sesame)
Polyunsaturated fats are easily found in:
- Sunflower seeds
- Pine nuts
- Chia seeds
- Flaxseed oil
- Canola oil
- Soybean oil
- Omega-3 fats (fish)
Unsaturated fats are one form that you want to avoid. What are unsaturated fats, you ask? They are the fats found in many kinds of meat (especially red meat and seafood), chicken or turkey with the skin, whole-milk, 2 percent, and 1 percent dairy products, coconut, coconut oil, palm oil, and palm kernel oil. Saturated fats are bad because they increase LDL cholesterol. Saturated fats are impossible to completely eliminate from your diet because many sources of unsaturated fat also has some saturated fat to go along with it. The key is to limit it as much as possible.
The worst fats we eat are called trans fatty acids, or trans fats. They have gotten a lot of press lately. The basic message is to avoid them, completely. Trans fats are created using a process called hydrogenation. Vegetable oil is heated in the presence of hydrogen which makes the vegetable oil less likely to spoil, and it also turns to a solid fat making it easier to ship from one place to another. Whenever you read a nutrition label and find &”partially hydrogenated vegetable oil&” in the ingredient list, drop the food item and run the other way. It is full of trans fats. Food producers use trans fat-filled products in their baked goods, margarines, and processed foods because it is cheap and will not spoil quickly. In other words: higher profits.
Trans fats also make good cholesterol levels bad and bad cholesterol levels worse by raising LDL levels and lowering HDL levels.
Following are a few interesting factoids from an article published by the Harvard School of Public Health called &”Fats and Cholesterol: Out with the Bad and In with the Good&” :
- &”&…a randomized trial known as the Optimal Macronutrient Intake Trial for Heart Health (OmniHeart) showed that replacing a carbohydrate-rich diet with one rich in unsaturated fat, predominantly monounsaturated fats, lowers blood pressure, improves lipid levels, and reduces the estimated cardiovascular risk.&”
- &”Even small amounts of trans fat in the diet can have harmful health effects. For every extra 2 percent of calories from trans fat daily—about the amount in a medium order of fast-food French fries—the risk of coronary heart disease increases by 23 percent. Eliminating trans fats from the U.S. food supply could prevent between 6 and 19 percent of heart attacks and related deaths, or more than 200,000 each year.&”
- &”As trans fat intake dwindles in developed countries, it is on the rise in developing nations. Inexpensive partially hydrogenated soybean oil has become a staple not only for the food industry but for home use. This shift away from traditional cooking oils and toward trans-rich partially hydrogenated oils is contributing to the slowly growing epidemic of cardiovascular disease in developing nations around the world.&”
- &”For good fats, there is consistent evidence that higher intake of either monounsaturated or polyunsaturated fat (especially the latter) lowers the risk for heart disease. In the Nurses’ Health Study, replacing 80 calories of carbohydrates with 80 calories of either polyunsaturated or monounsaturated fats lowered the risk for heart disease by about 30 to 40 percent.&”
These are just a few fact that I found interesting from that article. I highly recommend reading the article in whole to everyone that wants to learn more about dietary fats, their health risks, and their health benefits.
Remember: the wise use of knowledge = power.
If you have any friends or family members that have tried any of a number of high-protein/low-carb diets in the last five years or so, they may have stated emphatically something to the effect of, &”Carbs are the devil!&” That short, four-word statement encompasses the mindset of the general population of the United States where carbohydrates are concerned. Then all of the who’s who in the healthcare world stand around their study results wondering why American’s are so fat. Here is one possible guys and ladies: Americans have it all wrong where carbohydrates are concerned!
I have a theory that I believe to be completely true yet have no intention of proving scientifically or otherwise, and that is that carbohydrates are the easiest of all of the macronutrients for Americans to consume. Hear (or read) me out and you may find yourself agreeing with me by the time you finish this post.
Carbohydrates: Where Art Thou?
Before you attempt to discount my theory, we need to discuss a few specifics about carbs. To make a basic, scientifically proven statement, all carbohydrates are simply sugars that vary in their molecular complexity. Plain and simple. Some sugar molecules are very, very simple (glucose) and others are very complex because they are made up of hundreds of sugar molecules that branch of more times than a polygamist’s family tree. Another fact that complicates this topic is that not all of these sugar molecules are digestible.
A dated way of thinking broke carbohydrates into two groups: simple and complex. Simple sugars are structurally very basic (simple) and include the sugars fructose (fruit), dextrose and glucose (some fruits and grains, honey), and sucrose (white baking sugar, or table sugar). Glucose and dextrose are very similar structurally; one is the mirror image of the other derxtrose is actually referred to a d-glucose by some sources. Glucose is commonly called blood sugar because the body digests and breaks sugars down to the glucose form before the sugar is absorbed into and distributed by the blood stream.
Carbohydrates and Your Health
A major health problem involving carbs is called diabetes (Type I is was called insulin-dependent; Type II is was called adult-onset). Type I diabetics do not produce enough insulin on their own and Type II diabetics do not respond to the insulin they produce because of a condition called insulin resistance. Insulin resistance occurs when &”blood sugar and insulin levels&…stay high long after eating. Over time, the heavy demands made on the insulin-making cells wears them out, and insulin production slows, then stops&” (Harvard School of Public Health). The problems the insulin resistance causes are not limited to blood sugar. Studies have shown a relationship between insulin resistance and other issues like high blood pressure, high levels of bad cholesterol (triglycerides), low HDL levels ( the good type of cholesterol that should be high), and excess weight (over weight and obesity). The fact is that these symptoms present themselves together so often that the combination has been called metabolic syndrome.
The Glycemic Index and Carbohydrates
The glycemic index was developed as another way to classify carbohydrates besides the overly simplistic &”simple or complex&” classifications that we were limited to before. The index aims to classify carbs based on how quickly they are absorbed and by how high they increase blood sugar levels compared to glucose. Many factors affect how high or low a food source will score on the glycemic index. These factors include:
- Molecular configuration of a starch
- The amount of fiber a food contains
- Fat and acid content
- The degree of ripeness (fruit)
- How coarsely ground it is (grains)
Not all foods will be affected by every one of these factors. The glycemic index initially included only 750 different food items (American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. July 2002). The current database includes roughly 1,600 food items and is maintained by the University of Sydney Australia.
Do not feel compelled to believe that the glycemic is the answer to every health-concious human’s dietary information needs. By itself, the index is an imperfect measurement of the quality of a given food. Some really bad-for-you foods rank low on the glycemix index while foods that are really good for you rank really high on the index. That is why researchers came up with a measurement called glycemic load. This measurement takes into account the amount of carbs in a food and the glycemic index of the food. Glycemic load is broken down into three groupings:
The best sources of good-for-you carbs includes:
- Whole grains (grinding them yourself ensures that the grains you eat really are whole). These include both familiar and unfamiliar grains.
- Whole wheat pasta
Keep it simple and eat most carbs on their whole, fresh, or frozen form and you will likely not go wrong.
Other Sources of Good Information