Today, another substance that plays a role in the healthy balance of LDL and HDL cholesterol. It can be tricky because the good fats are fairly easy to spot but the harmful fats tend to be hidden and disguised in the packaged and processed foods we buy. Responsible manufacturers have mainly moved away from using the highly toxic ‘trans fats’ but unfortunately the cheaper your processed family meal for four is, the more likely it is to have few natural ingredients that might be classified as nutritional.
At this point I think it is important to remember that our bodies have been evolving for a very long time – in a hundred thousand years our DNA will only have altered about ten times which means that we are physically very similar to our first ancestors – I have said before that the body does not react to sudden changes very well! However, in the last 300 years and particularly the last 150 years since the industrial revolution we have thrown some curved balls at our bodies. Processed foods with manufactured artificial ingredients is just one area where our nutritional needs are not being met – one of the others, which is the real demon in our diet, is refined sugars – addictive -available from birth to grave, within hand’s reach in shops, in our own fridges and store cupboards.
Add these to the laboratory constructed (ugly) fats to extend the sell by date on ready meals and other processed foods in our daily diet and it is no wonder our bodies are in melt down with increased health issues that lead to Heart disease, cancers and dementia.
But back to fats…………………………..
We must not cut fats out of our diet – they have an essential role to play in our health and without fats and cholesterol our bodies will be open to infections, poor function in areas such as the brain, heart, reproductive system and our eyesight. I use the 80/20 rule because of my past weight issues and 20% of my diet comprises health fats – sometimes I will have more because I am out for a meal etc but basically my everyday diet comprises mainly seasonal vegetables and fruit, wholegrain rice, fish, chicken, red meat once a week, eggs, olive oil, moderate dairy. No one person’s diet is the same and you have to find the perfect balance for you and this includes your fat intake – as long as it is not harmful fats………..
Briefly, a quick look at the fats you are likely to encounter in your daily diet. One fat to avoid all together is not naturally occurring at all and that is manufactured ‘Trans Fats” Liquid oil is hydrogenated to extend its shelf life but in the process Trans fatty acids are formed – found in most processed foods including margarines -snacks such as microwave popcorn, cakes, biscuits, cookies, pies etc.
The other fat which in large quantities is not helpful in maintaining cholesterol levels is saturated fats – if there is too much in your diet it will raise your total Cholesterol as well as the LDL. Mainly found in animal products but also some seafood. However, provided you are not eating the rich fat around a steak or roast every day, or eating a block of cheese three times a week, or a pound of butter on your spuds, you can enjoy what is very tasty component of your diet in moderation.
The fats classified as healthy fats are Monounsaturated fats – which lower total cholesterol and at the same time lower LDL and increase HDL – this is contained in nuts, such as walnuts and olive oil.
Polyunsaturated fats also lower total cholesterol and LDL and these are found in salmon, soya, sunflower oils etc and have a very important component Omega-3 fatty acids. These can not only reduce your LDL and support HDL but are also very helpful in reducing blood pressure and the risk of developing blood clots. Even with people who have already suffered a heart attack including Omega-3 fatty acids in their diet reduces their risk of a fatal attack.
I love fish and living in Spain we are blessed with an abundance and variety so it is very easy to include oily fish at least twice a week. Some of the best for Omega-3 fatty acids are salmon, halibut, mackerel, sardines and Albacore Tuna.
At this point a word about cooking your healthy meals – Olive oil is great but not so good when heated to a really high temperature to cook your steak or fish. Use virgin olive oil if cooking and I will combine with some sunflower oil and a small amount of butter. You should not burn but maintain a temperature that cooks your meat, chicken of fish evenly. I tend to brown the meat in the pan and then transfer to the oven or microwave to finish cooking
For salads, vegetables and on toast use Extra Virgin Olive oil which has not been over processed – do not be tempted to use the light versions on offer as these have been industrialised. Just use the real stuff but a little less.
One of the most popular cholesterol myths… Eggs and your diet.
For many years the advice from nutritional experts is to remove eggs from your diet if you have high cholesterol.. Actually there is very little connection between the dietary cholesterol to be found in eggs and blood cholesterol.
If you are not eating a high proportion of processed foods containing high levels of Trans fats and sugars, eating an egg a day is actually going to be beneficial.
The liver produces much more cholesterol than you can consume from eggs or other animal products however if the rest of your diet is full of industrialised foods then your LDL – Low density lipoprotein is going to be high and that is the harmful form of cholesterol.
An egg has so much more than healthy fats going for it. The yolk is vitamin rich with A, D and E. Especially in the winter months when we are missing sunshine to work with our bodies to produce the essential vitamin D it is important to find another source and eggs are one of the few that are available. Eggs are also a great source of readily available and easy to prepare protein.
If you are in the process of losing weight then eating an egg, three times a week should be part of your healthy eating plan.
Apart from chocolate… Cheese is probably one of my favourite foods. Unfortunately like chocolate it is something that once I start eating I find it difficult to stop. I did an experiment last summer when I was carrying 14lbs more than I wanted. I ate my normal diet for six weeks and just stopped eating my usual daily ration of cheese. I lost the 14lbs in four weeks. I now only eat once a week as part of a cooked meal and have kept the weight off. Back to that old adage.. Everything in moderation….
It is a great idea to steam, grill or bake your food – if you are eating steak put in the oven in a pan with a grid so that the excess fat drains off – if you fancy a little butter on your vegetables, why not – great taste. Avoid frying everything you eat, especially in cheap cooking fat and this applies when you are out particularly when you have no control about the preparation of your food.
Here is a link to the Food Pharmacy for Olive Oil – great stuff – potent mix of anti-oxidants that can lower the LDL but leave the HDL untouched – obviously if you are overweight it does have a high fat and calorie count but much better to use the Extra Virgin version and get the health benefits than use the diet alternatives. It will also give you more information on the structure of fats.
The greatest gift you can give your body and its cholesterol levels is to avoid eating processed store bought cakes, biscuits, crackers some cheap breads, pasta dishes etc. If you make your own from scratch using butter and eat occasionally you will get a better tasting and healthier alternative.
If you suffer from diabetes the body is less able to maintain a balanced cholesterol level with an increase in LDL and VLDL (Very low density lipo protein) this leads to an increased risk of heart muscle damage and it is important that you have your levels monitored regularly. Having said that it is even more important that you stay away from processed foods, cook from scratch using healthy fats. It is also essential to stay away from high sugar content white carbohydrates instead using a moderate amount of wholegrains. Whilst monitoring by your doctor is available after diagnosis there are millions of people in the world you are pre-diabetic and are not aware of it.
This is why it is important to take responsibility and visit a pharmacy who offers a panel of tests for Blood Pressure, Blood Sugar and Cholesterol at least once a year to have a clear measurement of these key health indicators. That puts you in the driving seat and enables you to take action as well as work with your doctor to get you back within healthy ranges.
Cholesterol Levels measurements.
Blood cholesterol is measured in units called millimoles per litre of blood, (mmol/L) UK – you will note that some articles on cholesterol levels will recommend that normal levels should be lower than the recommended levels for healthy or at risk adults. However, this encourages people to drive their total levels down too far and puts them at risk of other diseases that result from a deficiency of cholesterol. I cannot stress enough how important the role of cholesterol is for the health of our vital organs including the brain.
- 5mmol/L for healthy adults
- 4mmol/L for those at high risk
- 5.6mmol/L to 6.2mmol/L considered borderline high
- Above 6.2mmol/L needs to be lowered.
It is recommended that levels of low-density lipoprotein (LDL) should be: Again LDL does have a role in functions within the body and it is only when it is oxidised by free radicals resulting from unhealthy food choices that it becomes dangerous.
- 3mmol/L for healthy adults
- 2mmol/L for those at high risk
- 3.4-4.1 mmol/L borderline high
- 4.1-4.9 mmol/ high
- Above 4.9 mmol/L very high.
Ideally the level of high-density lipoprotein (HDL) should be above 1.6 mmol/L.
Measurements in the United States and other countries are expressed differently and here is the link to the Mayo clinic with their helpful graphics.
To summarise – do not take fats out of your diet – use unprocessed, natural ingredients in your cooking, use fats and oils in moderation, eat plenty of vegetables, seasonal fruits, wholegrains, and eggs. If you are going to eat cheese or other high fat dairy products, do so carefully so that your total fat intake is kept between 20 and 35% of your daily intake depending on whether you need to lose weight or not.
Here are the other posts in this series on Cholesterol and next time I will be looking at another of the key health indicators.. Blood Pressure.