There is so much talk about cholesterol these days, that people forget it is a necessary substance which is useful to the body. In fact, your body manufactures cholesterol on its own (primarily in the liver), as it needs cholesterol to carry out some essential tasks. If this is the case, why is there such an emphasis on lowering your blood cholesterol levels and reducing consumption of cholesterol in your diet?
As your body is capable of making all the cholesterol which it requires, you don’t need to augment this supply through the foods that you eat. By making poor food selections on a regular basis, people often consume far too much unhealthy fat – which can elevate bad cholesterol to dangerous levels. Yet, there is some confusion as to what lipids are bad and how they will impact your cholesterol numbers.
What Does Cholesterol Do?
Not only does the liver manufacture cholesterol, but the majority of cells in your body can make it as well. This is due to the fact that cholesterol is necessary for the synthesis of many hormones – such as oestrogen, testosterone and adrenal hormones. It is also used to make bile acids (which aids in the digestion of fat), vitamin D and create cell membranes.
To help you gain a clearer understanding of what foods you should avoid, let’s look at which fats negatively affect our cholesterol levels.
Too Much of a Good Thing
The problem comes when through the consumption of foods with high levels of unhealthy (and even man-made) fats, your blood lipid levels rise far too high. Your body wasn’t designed to have such elevated amounts of cholesterol circulating in your bloodstream, and this can result in it building up on your artery walls.
This condition is called atherosclerosis, and it can lead to cardiovascular disease, stroke and heart attack – which can cause loss of life or severe disability. Experts caution that roughly half of the adults in Australia have total blood cholesterol numbers higher than the safe recommendation, so this is a large issue which you can’t afford to ignore.
What Fats Elevate Cholesterol?
According to the Heart Foundation, high cholesterol levels can be attributed to the consumption of foods with high trans fat and saturated fat content. There is some debate as to whether saturated fat is indeed unhealthy, but many experts hold that it causes a significant rise in your LDL cholesterol. Interestingly, the actual cholesterol content in the foods that you eat, only has a minor impact on your LDL (bad) cholesterol numbers. In contrast, the saturated and trans fat content in food has a far larger effect in terms of raising your LDL cholesterol. What does this mean?
When trying to lower your blood lipid levels (especially bad LDL cholesterol), pay more attention to the type and quantity of fat in your foods and less to the cholesterol content.
Where Are These Fats Found?
Examples of foods which are laden with trans fat and should be avoided include most foods which have been deep fried or commercially baked goods like pastries. Foods high in saturated fat include red meat, dairy products that have the milk fat still in them (like whole milk or butter), deep fried foods and commercially baked items like pies.
Beware of Partially Hydrogenated Oils
One of the primary reasons that high cholesterol has become such a large problem today, is the widespread use of partially hydrogenated oils in foods. The process of hydrogenating oil is a fairly recent innovation and it makes liquid vegetable oils solid at room temperature. The first solid vegetable oil to be sold commercially was the well-known Crisco brand, which was first offered in 1911.
In the 1950’s, food manufacturers began using partially hydrogenated vegetable oils in abundance, as it allowed for a much longer shelf-life for products and it was cheaper than animal-based fats. Unfortunately, this affordability and convenience came at a price – it is now widely known that eating trans fats causes a much higher risk of heart disease and heart attack.
Research has also indicated that trans fats can be responsible for insulin resistance, heart arrythmias, central obesity, body-wide inflammation, developing diabetes and dysfunction of blood vessels. For these reasons, some countries are implementing bans on all foods with trans fat, not even allowing them to be sold within their borders.
Healthy Cholesterol Lowering Diet
You now know which fats negatively affect our cholesterol levels, so you can eat the right foods for healthy blood lipid numbers. While some people have a genetic predisposition towards developing high cholesterol, the levels of bad LDL cholesterol in your blood can be meaningfully impacted simply by changing your diet.
Though there is some debate as to the role of saturated fat and high cholesterol, most experts recommend that you steer clear of this lipid. Where the verdict is unanimous among the scientific community, is that trans fats (mostly stemming from partially hydrogenated oils) are extremely damaging to your health. Not only can they elevate your bad cholesterol, but they can have a whole host of negative effects, such as increased incidence of heart disease and heart attack.
Therefore, for optimum health and to avoid unwanted conditions like atherosclerosis due to high cholesterol, eliminate foods with these fats in your diet. Not only will this help your blood lipid levels, it will leave more room on your plate for vibrant, nutrient-rich food for better health overall.
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