Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Cholesterol: What is it, and why is too much so bad?

Today's topic is all about one of my favorite things to "preach" about, and that's CHOLESTEROL! Until I found out that my fiancee's was so dangerously high, I didn't know too much about it, but when I found out, I changed every aspect of our daily lives when it came to food. You may be asking "what kind of foods contain cholesterol?"Well, your liver is what synthesizes cholesterol, and it is made by the liver from saturated fats. We've talked about saturated fats before, and why they are so bad. The number one offender when it comes to cholesterol is MEAT. The more fatty the meat, the more cholesterol. The ADA (American Dietetics Association) recommends that you don't consume red meat more than once a week. That is pretty hard to swallow for all you meat-eaters, so I say twice a week is acceptable. Now don't think that just eating a lot of chicken is going to be the better choice, chicken thighs and wings and dark meat of poultry contain just as much, if not more, cholesterol than red meat. When it comes to choosing meat, be wise. Pick lean, skinless, chicken/turkey breast, remove fat. If you are going to treat yourself with some red meat, lean toward filet mignon or other lean red meats, the less white fat running through it, the better on your heart. EGGS are another horrible cholesterol-heavy food. The average large egg contains about 212 mg cholesterol. If you eat two eggs you are already over the daily recommended intake for cholesterol. One egg contains Other offenders of cholesterol include dairy products such as milk, cheese, cream. Switch to 1 or 2% or soy milk, limit cheese to an occasional snack, and you will reasonably stay within the limit. Now what's the norm for how much cholesterol you should consume in your diet? The number stands at about 300mg a day. And if you look on the back of your food labels you can see what qualifies as a serving and how many mg are in each serving. Believe it or not, your body actually synthesizes 80% of it's cholesterol on its own and that is why you only need to consume 20% from your diet. You don't want to little, because cholesterol does benefit the body in many ways. It produces bile salts, hormones, and vitamin D, but you don't want too much because of it's negative effects on the heart, and that 300mg is the healthy balance for this.
There are three types of cholesterol: LDL (Low-density lipoprotein, aka BAD cholesterol), HDL (High-density lipoprotein, aka GOOD cholesterol), and Triglycerides. These three make up your overall cholesterol numbers which can be tested in your blood.

Here is some information obtained from on the positive and negative effects of each of these cholesterols.

LDL (Bad) Cholesterol
When too much LDL (bad) cholesterol circulates in the blood, it can slowly build up in the inner walls of the arteries that feed the heart and brain. Together with other substances, it can form plaque, a thick, hard deposit that can narrow the arteries and make them less flexible. This condition is known as atherosclerosis. If a clot forms and blocks a narrowed artery, heart attack or stroke can result.

HDL (Good) Cholesterol
About one-fourth to one-third of blood cholesterol is carried by high-density lipoprotein (HDL). HDL cholesterol is known as "good" cholesterol, because high levels of HDL seem to protect against heart attack. Low levels of HDL (less than 40 mg/dL) also increase the risk of heart disease. Medical experts think that HDL tends to carry cholesterol away from the arteries and back to the liver, where it's passed from the body. Some experts believe that HDL removes excess cholesterol from arterial plaque, slowing its buildup.

Triglyceride is a form of fat made in the body. Elevated triglycerides can be due to overweight/obesity, physical inactivity, cigarette smoking, excess alcohol consumption and a diet very high in carbohydrates (60 percent of total calories or more). People with high triglycerides often have a high total cholesterol level, including a high LDL (bad) level and a low HDL (good) level. Many people with heart disease and/or diabetes also have high triglyceride levels.

My fiancee gave me permission to share his story and cholesterol numbers with you for the purpose of my educating people on how diet CAN improve cholesterol significantly, and it doesn't take too much time, either. He went to the doctor, and the next day received his blood test results. Everything was normal but the doctor was very, VERY concerned about his cholesterol numbers. They were extremely high and the doctor pretty much told him he was at a very high risk for heart attack if he didn't change his diet. He has 6 months to do it on his own or he was going on medication. We had been together about 2 years at this point, and I hadn't focused too much on cholesterol because I know I cooked pretty healthy at dinner, but I wasn't looking at the big picture, because I didn't know that the problem existed. BIG mistake. Whether there's a problem or not, you need to watch your cholesterol intake to keep it under control before the problem begins. I changed EVERYTHING. From the way I cooked dinner, the amount of red meat I let him eat a week, to limiting his egg and cheese intake, and started making his lunches every day for him. It sounds like a lot of work, but when you see the difference 6 months made, this was such a worth-while change. Now it's the normal routine. I let him have his red meat a couple times a week, 2 eggs on the weekend, and continue to make his lunch. I substituted all butter with substitute (except in baking, of course), all foods were fried or basted in olive oil, and cheese was limited. His good cholesterol was also very low, which is not good. There are heart-healthy foods that can raise this number, and these include: whole grains (pasta, bread, etc.), increasing monounsaturated fats (olive oil), and exercise. I switched all the pasta and bread to 100% whole grain/wheat, as I mentioned before, everything was cooked in olive oil, and increased the fresh fruits and vegetables served with dinner and in lunch. An HDL number above 60 is actually proven to reduce heart disease! It's amazing that the food you put into your body could have such an influence on your heart and overall health.
So after the astonishing and scary high numbers tested prior, six months later he went in for the cholesterol check-up, and his doctor couldn't believe it. Although a few of the numbers were still slightly elevated, the amount they changed for the better was astounding. His words were along the lines of: "I don't know how you did this, but keep doing it and you won't have to go on medication, this is great!" To show you the shift after the 6 month change in diet, here are the before and after numbers:

Before, After, Normal 

Cholesterol:   273, 197, <200
Cholesterol/High Density Lipoprotein (ratio):   8.5, 5.5, <5.0
LDL: 175, 117, <100
HDL: 32, 36, >/=40
Triglycerides: 329, 222, <150

It hasn't been check again, but I'm sure because we continue the healthy living lifestyle in our house and having changed his lunch from greasy fast food/roach coach to healthy sandwiches on whole wheat, it is continuing to stay on the right path and improve. There are still a couple areas of improvement, but you can see that in 6 months, with a healthy diet, the numbers significantly improved. Once eating healthier, he even told me that he didn't get that disgustingly full and slugging feeling after eating anymore, and he had more energy. Diet is everything, guys, for your heart, your mind, and your entire body!

Cholesterol is the number one offender of the heart, be smart and choose heart-healthy foods to improve your HDL and decrease your LDL. Any questions? Feel free to leave me a comment, and follow me on twitter!

1 comment:

  1. Have I told you how much I enjoy your blog? I can't remember, so I'll tell you again. I think I enjoy it so much because I trust you and understand where you are coming from with this information. You're not someone who's out to make a buck on the nutrition scene, you're someone who really cares about what the rest of us are putting in our bodies. And I love the nice, concise, chunks of nutritional information since I have NO CLUE where to start when making healthier choices! Thx!