|For years we heard that a low-fat, low-cholesterol diet would keep us healthy and help us lose weight. Many of us jumped on the bandwagon, eliminating fat and high-cholesterol foods from our diets. |
Well, unfortunately, we were misinformed to say the least, doing it all wrong. We were told that butter is bad for you and along came margarine, a cheaper kind of butter.
Over time it was realised that some of these alternative spreads or margarines were not so healthy as previously thought. You see fat can be divided up into good and bad types. Researchers discovered that fats can be sub classified into saturated, mono unsaturated and poly unsaturated variety.
Typically we get saturated fats in western diets from animal sources such as meat and animal related products. In some poorer countries butter and margarine as viewed as rich mans’ food and are not consumed by many people except those that can afford to buy either of them.
What I have found is that in societies seen as more primitive and poorer there have been lower rates of coronary heart disease in the population due to a diet most of us would have eaten in the past centuries as subsistence farmers like our ancestors did.
As these countries have become more western, diet has changed for the people who live there. Those who have adopted a western lifestyle have become more unhealthy.
Rates of diabetes and coronary heart disease (also known as CHD) have rocketed in such countries that would not have occurred in the past. Instead of eliminating fat completely, we should have been eliminating the “bad fats,” the fats associated with obesity and heart disease and eating the “good fats.”
Cholesterol - It’s been ingrained into our brains that cholesterol causes heart disease and that we should limit our intake of foods that contain it, but dietary cholesterol is different than blood cholesterol.
Cholesterol comes from two places—first, from food such as meat, eggs, and seafood, and second, from our body. Our liver makes this waxy substance and links it to carrier proteins called lipoproteins.
These lipoproteins dissolve the cholesterol in blood and carry it to all parts of your body. Our body needs cholesterol to help form cell membranes, some hormones, and Vitamin D. This substance is clearly important and is produced daily for the body internally as well as dietary sources.
You may have heard of “good” and “bad” cholesterol. Well, high-density lipoproteins (HDL) carry cholesterol from the blood to the liver. The liver processes the cholesterol for elimination from the body. If there’s HDL in the blood, then less cholesterol will be deposited in the coronary arteries. That’s why it’s called “good” cholesterol.
Low-density lipoproteins (LDL), carry cholesterol from the liver to the rest of the body. When there is too much in the body, it is deposited in the coronary arteries. This is not good.
A build-up of cholesterol in our arteries could prevent blood from getting to parts of our heart. That means that our heart won’t get the oxygen and nutrients it needs, which could result in heart attack, stroke, or sudden death.
So, if your LDL is higher than your HDL, you’re at a greater risk for developing heart disease. It may come as a surprise, but recent studies have shown that the amount of cholesterol in our food is not strongly linked to our blood cholesterol levels.
It’s the types of fats you eat that affect your blood cholesterol levels. That’s maybe confusing but basically the cholesterol in your diet is not necessarily related to the amount of cholesterol in your blood.
Remember your body can produce cholesterol even if you think you could avoid cholesterol containing food. Cholesterol can turn bad in your blood if you have a very poor diet and this causes the formation of plaques in the walls of the blood vessels leading to heart problems and bypass surgery in some cases. Its the build up of LDL cholesterol as mentioned above.
A diet that restricts intake of bad fats, along with sufficient vitamins and minerals will reduce the likelihood of this process occurring. Cholesterol can turn bad through a process known as oxidation.
What this means is rather like margarine or butter going rancid after a certain length of time.Vitamins and minerals have the power to reduce this and are known as antioxidants. Have you seen ascorbic acid on food labels? That is used as a preservative in some food products.
Bad Fats - There are two fats that you should limit your intake of—saturated fats and trans fats.
Saturated Fats - Saturated fats are mostly animal fats. You find them in meat, whole-milk products, poultry skin, and egg yolks. Coconut oil also has a high amount of saturated fat. Saturated fats raise both the good and bad blood cholesterol.
Trans Fats - Trans fats are produced through hydrogenation—heating oils in the presence of oxygen. Many products contain trans fats because the fats help them maintain a longer shelf life. Margarine also contains a high amount of trans fats. Trans fats are especially dangerous because they lower the good cholesterol, HDL and raise the bad cholesterol, LDL.
Unfortunately, most products do not tell you how much trans fat it contains, but you can find out if it’s in a product by looking at the ingredient list. If the ingredients contain hydrogenated or partially-hydrogenated oils, then it contains trans fats.
Good Fats - Some fats actually improve cholesterol levels.
Polyunsaturated Fats - Polyunsaturated fats are found in sunflower, corn, and soybean oils. These oils contain Omega-6, an essential fatty acid. However, most people get enough Omega-6 in their diet and instead need more Omega-3. Omega-3 is a fatty acid found in fish and walnuts.
Monounsaturated Fats - Monounsaturated fats are found in canola, peanut, and olive oils. Both types of unsaturated fats decrease the bad cholesterol, LDL and increase the good cholesterol, HDL.
Now, just because the unsaturated fats improve your blood cholesterol levels, you don’t have the go-ahead to eat all of the olive oil, butter and nuts you want. Fat of any kind does contain calories, and if you’re trying to lose weight, eat fat in moderation, and stay away from saturated fats.
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