Good Cholesterol (LDL) and Bad Cholesterol (HDL)
No doubt all of us have heard much research about unhealthy high cholesterol levels. What we also need to understand is that there are different types of cholesterol and that their effects on the body are quite different.
Some cholesterol in our body is obtained from the foods we eat, but most of it is produced by the liver. The liver will produce cholesterol, and the different types, based primarily on what you eat and your physical activity level.
Consuming mono or polyunsaturated fats has the tendency to raise high density lipoproteins (HDL) which is known to be beneficial in preventing plaque build up in the arteries and therefore reducing the risk of heart disease. Examples of foods that contain mono or polyunsaturated fats are olive oil, most nuts, certain fish oils, and omega-3 fatty acids. However, these foods may be high in calories so moderation is important.
Consuming saturated fats and triglycerides will cause the liver to produce more low density lipoproteins (LDL) which will contribute to plaque building up on the arterial walls which can lead to heart disease. Some examples of foods high in saturated fats include animal fats, butter, dairy products such as cheese and non-skim milk, and oils made of lard and hydrogenated vegetable oils.
There is also a lipoprotein referred to as very low density lipoprotein (VLDL). As you can imagine this is even more harmful than LDL and is a major contributing factor to heart disease.
Facts About Cholesterol
- Cholesterol can only be found in animal products. Fruits, vegetables, grains, and nuts, do not contain cholesterol. They can not since it is the liver that produces cholesterol. Beware of advertisements that claim, "cholesterol free" products. Although this may be true, such as in potato chips, it does not mean the food does not contain a high amount of saturated fats.
- Eating saturated fats is the main cause of high LDL, not so much as eating foods high in cholesterol. The problem is, many times foods high in saturated fats are also high in cholesterol.
- Once there is plaque built up inside the walls of blood vessels it is there for good. There is no simple way of removing it. Even improving your health and lifestyle will only reduce the rate at which heart disease increases, it will not reverse heart disease. This is why people with heart disease many times need bypass surgery and angioplasty.
- Vigorous and regular physical activity can help reduce LDL and raise HDL.
- Obesity can also contribute to high LDL.
- A diet high in refined/processed sugars can lead to high LDL.
- Some oils, that are primarily mono or polyunsaturated, can be chemically altered, such as in frying, so they adopt the harmful properties of saturated fats. Bottom line, fried foods are harmful and may be high in saturated fats almost regardless of the type of oil used.
- Partly hydrogenated vegetable oil (as you may see on margarine containers) means that the producers have used a healthy oil, but have chemically altered it so it tastes better and looks more appealing. The problem with this is that by doing so this oil now has many of the harmful properties of saturated fats/oils.