Cholesterol can be confusing. How can you tell bad from good cholesterol, and how can you reduce bad levels? Can you burn IT off?
Cholesterol is a type of lipid, just as fats are. However, unlike fat, it can’t be exercised off, sweated out, or burned for energy. It is found only in animal products, including meat, chicken, fish, eggs, organ meats, and high-fat dairy products.
Is it good or bad?
Just as homemade oil-and-vinegar dressing separates into a watery pool with a fat-slick topping, so would fats and cholesterol if they were dumped directly into the blood. To solve this dilemma, the body transports fat and Cholesterol by coating them with a water-soluble “bubble” of protein. This protein-fat bubble is called a lipoprotein.
* Low-density lipoproteins (LDLs) carry it to the tissues. This is “bad” Cholesterol, since high LDL levels are linked to increased risk of heart disease.
* High-density lipoproteins (HDLs) carry excess Cholesterol back to the liver, which processes and excrete it. HDLs are “good” Cholesterol – the more HDL you have, the lower your risk of developing heart disease.
* HDLs and LDLs are found only in your blood, not in food.
Test your cholesterol
Your risk of heart disease can be assessed with a blood cholestero test. According to expert guidelines:
* Total cholestero should be 5.0 mmol/L or less.
* LDL should be 3.0mmol/L or less after an overnight fast.
* HDL should be 1.0mmol/L or more.
* Total cholestero/HDL ratio should be less than 4.0.
However, if you have heart disease or diabetes total cholestero and LDL target readings will be lower.
The fats that supply calories, float in your blood and accumulate in your thighs and hips are called triglycerides. They can be saturated or unsaturated, and the unsaturated ones can be either monounsaturated or polyunsaturated. For every ounce of triglycerides you eat, you add 250 calories (or 9 calories per gram – the weight of a raisin) to your diet. Only saturated fats increase blood levels of cholesterol and heart disease risk.
Which fats are saturated?
In general, the harder a fat, the more saturated it is. Beef and dairy fats are mostly saturated fats. Liquid oils are usually unsaturated fats, including monounsaturated fats in olive and canola oils and polyunsaturated fats in safflower, corn, soybean and fish oils. Coconut, palm and palm kernel oils are exceptions to the rule – these liquid vegetable oils are highly saturated fats.
Fear of frying
Eating foods with a lot of saturated fat causes the amount of bad LDLs in your blood to increase while good HDLs decrease, increasing the risk of heart disease. Cut the saturated fat, and your blood cholesterol levels and your risk of heart disease decrease. Your risk of cancer also decreases. A diet with more polyunsaturated fats, rather than saturated fats, lowers total blood-cholestero levels, but unfortunately also lowers HDL levels, so you lose both good and bad . Olive oil is another story. This oil lowers total-blood cholesterol and LDL without causing HDL levels to drop. By using olive oil, you can decrease your total – cholesterol levels while maintaining your HDL levels, thus decreasing your risk of heart disease.