Almost everyone hears the word Cholesterol today. A few understand it, a few fear it, many live with misconceived notions about it and a few chose to ignore it. Ignorance may be bliss at times but knowledge is always equal to power. As my dad always tells me “Son, there is never an end to learning”, hence I always believe one should educate oneself over a subject rather than fear it in ignorance.
By profession I am an engineer and not a doctor though I have always excelled at Biology. Whatever I attempt to explain in this article is purely based on my understanding based upon a lot of my research from the web and my analysis on the same. This is not to be taken as a doctor’s or a medical professional opinion but just a layman’s viewpoint based on his research.
First thing we need to understand that cholesterol is not a negative word as is it made to sound in most contexts. We have to understand and accept that anything in excess is always a bad thing but we need to understand it more carefully before associating it with the negative after all our body itself produces cholesterol. Our liver is the prime source for the production of cholesterol that exists within our blood. We need to understand what exactly cholesterol is. Cholesterol is basically the substance that carries the fats to the tissues and cells of the body. As proteins are important food constituent for building muscles, fats too are equally important for cell and tissue repair amongst other activities. So fats can’t be completely eliminated from one’s diet but needs to be consumed in moderation as a part of a balanced diet.
Cholesterol is packaged as a) LDL b) HDL and c) Triglycerides. LDL or low density lipoprotein is commonly termed as “Bad Cholesterol” and HDL or high density lipoprotein is termed as good cholesterol and triglycerides which are not cholesterol but are actually a type of fat are used by the body for energy. However too much of it and again it’s a bad thing as it can raise the risk of heart disease. Cholesterol is actually very important for carrying out the very important functions such as digestion and hormone production. Hence if cholesterol were not produced by the liver we would be in serious trouble.
Now most of us do understand that our cholesterol levels are directly proportional to what we eat. While this is true we generally tend to think that if we consume foods that are high in cholesterol our blood cholesterol levels will increase drastically. While dietary cholesterol may increase cholesterol levels to some extent studies and research on the same has revealed that it is not as harmful as the consumption of saturated fats. Before we understand the impact of saturated fats on health we must try to understand cholesterol better. The two elements of cholesterol viz. LDL and HDL are not fats but they are carriers of fats. They are transport mechanisms for fats and deposit them to various parts of the body. Now LDL and HDL are actually produced by the liver depending on the food and type of food we eat. The common types of fats known to everybody are a) Saturated Fats b) Unsaturated fats. Unsaturated fats are further divided into monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats both of which are heart healthy fats.
Now when one consumes a diet rich in saturated fats then the liver produces an increased amount LDL to perform the necessary action of carrying fats to the cells. Now when excess saturated fats are present excess of LDL is released by the liver and this results in the LDL carrying and depositing all excess of saturated fat on the arterial walls leading to plaque build up which may increase the risk of heart disease if coupled with other risk factors such as high blood sugar etc. Just high cholesterol is not the prime cause of a heart attack or stroke since 35% of heart attacks occur in patients with low cholesterol. However plaque buildup must be controlled for a healthier and more active life coupled with improved stamina. Consider arteries as your drainage pipe of your food disposal unit. If you keep dumping garbage and sludge down there you will find that it may get blocked someday due to the accumulation of grease along its surface area. Now the good news is the body gives us a mechanism to remove this unwanted sludge and that is our very own HDL. HDL is responsible for carrying the unhealthy fats back to the liver for disposal. So one may ask how we increase our HDL. HDL is once again produced by our very own liver and is increased when we increase our consumption of healthy fats such as monounsaturated fats and polyunsaturated fats. Experts say that consumption of food rich in monounsaturated fats such as and especially walnuts daily can reduce your risk of heart attacks by half. So consume heart healthy nuts and use olive oil for cooking and make sure you get your heart pumping with regular cardio.
Remember there is always a better way to a healthy living through food rather than through medicines. It’s important to keep your cholesterol down but it’s also important to remember to stop fearing and start living but always be informed. Much research has shown than increased levels of blood sugar causes damage to arterial walls which cause it to form scabs and when these scabs break people suffer an attack. Thin people also can have high cholesterol so it’s a common playing field for everyone. Being aware helps us live in peace without taking drastic measure or completely excluding any food groups from one diet. Following are some key points
· Limit saturated fats, deep fried food and unhealthy oils
· Increase unsaturated fat contents
· Use olive oil for cooking.
· Eat foods rich in anti-oxidants such as pomegranates
· Black tea and green tea are great for health
· Minimize stress as it increases any disease
· Have complex carbohydrates.
· Have eggs 2-3 times a week as its rich in vitamin D, A and E
· Reduce red meat intake to 2-3 times a week, but don’t completely eliminate it since its a great source of iron, and vitamin B12 both of which are extremely important for normal body functions. It is better to choose lean cuts of meat though.
Most importantly listen to what your body is telling you and eat everything but eat in moderation and never over indulge. Remember nothing is really bad if you respect it and consume with moderation. Be aware of what you eat and be careful before going on drastic diets or completely eliminating any food group from one’s diet as it often causes more harm than benefits and results in deficiencies. It’s important to have tasty and yummy food since we all work hard for it but as long as we are aware of what we are eating we will always consume the right food in moderation.