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.
So far I hope that I have established that cholesterol is important for many areas of our health and that it is the LDL (low density lipoprotein) with its smaller particles, particularly when those particles are oxidized, that causes plaque build-up in the arteries.
This oxidation occurs when we have a diet high in white fat and white carbohydrates, sugar and indulge in activities such as smoking. Since the white fat diet is the most popular today – flavoured latte’s with muffins – cookies, high sugar white cereals, etc etc, the LDL levels of a great many people is going to cause health problems eventually.
Carbohydrates are a component of food that supplies us with energy in the form of calories to the body. Along with proteins and fats they provide the human body with the main elements required to be healthy. Carbohydrates are made up of sugars (simple carbohydrates), starches (complex carbohydrates) and fibre. If you take the fibre out of the formula through over processing you are just left with the sugars.. These are intense and result in blood glucose fluctuations. You may have experienced this for yourself after a heavy lunch with lots of white rice followed by a rich and sugary dessert. You become light headed and feel faint requiring a top up around 4pm in the afternoon!
To lower cholesterol levels naturally you need to eat carbohydrates that have retained the fibre element as this helps absorb some of the sugars and prevent blood glucose fluctuations.
Carbohydrates are not the demons that some would make out. They have essential elements that are required to make the perfect fuel mix for our bodies.
However,our requirement for carbohydrates will change as we get older. When we are children and young adults our growing bodies require a supercharged fuel – carbohydrates are also needed in higher concentration during periods of high activity as you get older but should be allied to that particular period of exercise. When men and women pass through the mid-life change the requirement certainly drops but levels again depend on how active your life style is.
If someone is a total couch potato drifting from bed to table, table to car, car to desk, desk to car, car to sofa – then putting a high octane fuel into the body will simply be converted to fat. However, stopping all carbohydrates is wrong – there are certain nutrients and fibre within wholegrain carbohydrates that the body needs so that the chemical balance is maintained. Here is the link to Food Pharmacy – Brown Rice and this will show you what is actually removed from the grain.
As far as LDL cholesterol is concerned there is some evidence that a lower carbohydrate intake can decrease the numbers. I think that this is likely to be because of the reduction of sugars when the carbohydrates usually consumed are white without the fibre and B-vitamins element. However, a certain amount of wholegrain carbohydrate with the fibre attached should still be eaten in certain quantities.
Going back to the last post on the liver – the organ that is vital in converting the carbohydrates into energy – keeping the liver healthy is extremely important and if it is working efficiently your carbohydrate uptake can be less but still effective.
I am afraid I do not class white carbohydrates as a food group – they are sugars pure and simple and most have little or no nutritional value. By the time the wholegrain has been stripped of its fibre, vitamin B and other nutrients to suit today’s palate you have nothing but white stodge on a plate. There are exceptions – those of an Italian origin have been eating white pasta made with a specific flour for generations but it is offset too by their love of olive oil, lots of tomatoes, onions and garlic etc which is actual the predominant part of their diet not the pasta.
It is important that the grain carbohydrates should be wholegrain – rice, wheat and oats. However, wheat is one of the newer grains and does not suit everybody’s digestion –
Gluten is a protein present in grains such as wheat, barley and rye and it can be very difficult for some people to digest. Celiac disease is an inherited autoimmune disease that can ultimately badly damage the intestines. Having one parent or close relative with celiac disease your chances of being affected are around 1 in 25. An interesting study in China where the grain of choice is rice, has noted an increase in celiac disease and also the less severe gluten intolerance. There is some evidence to suggest that as more people adopt a western diet with industrially produced bread products they are developing this rarely reported reaction.
If you are reading this and you are an adult, have eaten wheat products all your life, have never suffered from prolonged bloating, stomach upsets and fatigue, then the chances are that you are not sensitive to gluten. If on the other hand you are suffering from these symptoms look at your food for the last few weeks and circle all items that contain wheat, especially industrially processed.
I am personally better with home-made bread made from good quality organic flour than I am with commercial sliced bread of any kind which tends to have many more additives.
Back to carbohydrates.
Whatever age you are, if you are very active you can eat a diet of wholegrain carbohydrates, lean protein and healthy fats and plenty of vegetables with some fruit to obtain the nutrition needed for optimal fuel.
Breakfast – Porridge oats (buy guaranteed gluten free – they may be contaminated if milled in the same place as wheat) – or homemade muesli with nuts, seeds and a small amount of fruits – go easy on the dried fruit as it has higher concentration of sugars.
Oats contain soluble fibre and this works on your cholesterol in a couple of ways – If both your HDL and LDL are on the high side – the fibre will reduce the total absorption of cholesterol into your bloodstream but it will also reduce the LDL cholesterol which is what you should be aiming for. You need about 10 grams of soluble fibre a day and by having a bowl of porridge (6grams) and a banana (4 grams) you will have started the day well.
If you enjoy a cooked breakfast then one slice of wholegrain toast with a scrape of butter and a poached egg and perhaps a tomato…
Lunch – I medium potato with lots of green vegetables and some carrots or perhaps two tablespoons of brown rice with lean protein is all that is needed. If you enjoy pasta than buy a high quality italian variety or better still wholegrain. Limit yourself to around 75gm and eat with lots of tomato sauce and onions. Avoid pies and other pastries unless you have made yourself with wholegrain flour and real butter (not margerine).
Supper -A bowl of homemade vegetable soup. A large salad with roast chicken. Salmon and green vegetables. If you are going to be enjoying a night on the sofa and television the carbohydrate is not going anywhere except your waistline.
If you are working out three times a week then add another spoonful of wholegrain rice to your dinner the night before – eat a banana before your workout.
Other foods to include with your carbohydrates are nuts and seeds – walnuts are great, beans, but only a handful, certain fruits such as apples (contain pectin which helps keep your bile ducts healthy) and prunes, and my favourite, banana, again not huge amounts but the fibre from all of these will not only help keep the LDL numbers in balance but also keep the bowels working and healthy.
Next time the greatest myth about cholesterol… that all fats are bad for you..
Here is part one and two in the cholesterol series.
©sallygeorginacronin Just Food for Health 2008