FAT, CHOLESTEROL, AND HEART DISEASE
This article will try to answer some questions about
fat, cholesterol, and heart disease. What exactly is
cholesterol? What is saturated fat? Should we try to remove
these from our diets? Is cholesterol really a contributing
factor in heart disease?
Fats are an important part of total nutrition because they are
the most concentrated form of energy. Each gram of fat provides
nine calories, while the same amount of protein or carbohydrate
provides only four calories. One tablespoon of butter or
margarine has approximately 123 calories. One tablespoon of
sugar has only about 45 calories. Fats carry certain vitamins,
such as A and D. Also, some fat is needed in the diet for proper
growth and for the maintenance of healthy skin.
Many of the foods we eat contain some fat. These fat-containing
foods rarely contain just one type of fat; instead
polyunsaturated, saturated and monounsaturated fats usually
appear together in the same foods. The amount of fat, and kind
of fats eaten may increase one's risk for heart disease.
SATURATED fats are found primarily in animal products and are
usually solid at room temperature. Butter, bacon, and cheese for
example, are animal products high in saturated fats. There are
also some saturated vegetable fats that tend to raise the
cholesterol level in the blood. These can be found in solid
shortenings, coconut oil, and palm oil. A high blood cholesterol
level is a risk factor for heart disease.
POLYUNSATURATED FATS, unlike saturated fats, are usually liquid
oils of vegetable origin such as corn, safflower, soybean,
sunflower, and sesame seed oils. Poultry and fish are also good
sources of polyunsaturated fats. Scientists have shown that
substituting polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fats for some of
the saturated ones tends to reduce high levels of certain fats in
MONOUNSATURATED FATS are usually liquid oils of vegetable origin
such as olive oil, peanut oil, and canola oil. Introducing foods
high in monounsaturated oil may be beneficial in reducing high
levels of certain fats in the blood.
CHOLESTEROL is often confused with saturated fats, because both
are found in animal products but they are quite different.
Cholesterol is an important component of cells and the coating of
nerve tissues and is needed for digestion of fats. Even sex
hormones are produced from cholesterol. If we exclude all
dietary sources of cholesterol, our body will still produce what
it needs from other substances. Therefore, cholesterol is not a
Population studies done on male subjects over long periods of
time indicate that there is a relationship between eating foods
high in saturated fats and cholesterol and having high levels of
blood cholesterol. In the blood, cholesterol travels in packages
called lipoproteins. Low density lipoproteins, or LDLs, are
often referred to as "bad cholesterol" because these lipoproteins
carry most of the cholesterol in the blood. If this cholesterol
is not removed from the blood, cholesterol and fat can build up
in arteries. These fatty deposits eventually make it difficult
for blood to flow to the heart. This lack of blood flow may
result in a heart attack.
Cholesterol is also packaged in high-density lipoproteins, or
HDLs. HDLs help remove cholesterol from the blood, and are
therefore referred to as "good cholesterol."
Because the build-up of fatty materials in the blood vessels is a
slow process, a physician may be able to predict your chance of
heart disease by measuring your blood cholesterol level. If you
have a high level of blood cholesterol, it is possible that, with
early detection, a change in dietary habits and lifestyle can
prolong your life.
While students, physicians, and nutritionists are not convinced
that cholesterol and saturated fats are the only culprits in this
disorder, high blood cholesterol and more specifically, high LDL
cholesterol, is considered to be an important RISK FACTOR in the
development of heart disease. Other important risk factors
*High blood pressure
*Lack of exercise
If your blood cholesterol level is above 200 milligrams per
deciliter your doctor may measure your LDL & HDL levels. A
desirable LDL cholesterol level is below 130 milligrams per
deciliter, and a desirable HDL cholesterol level is above 35
What can you do if your levels are not desirable?
Increased exercise and losing excess body fat is generally
advised. An overall reduction in the total amount of fat eaten
is recommended. Furthermore, anything you can do to reduce or
eliminate any of the other risk factors mentioned such as high
blood pressure, cigarette smoking, lack of exercise, and obesity
will improve your chances for a healthier future.
The National Research Council and the American Medical
Association have recommended that the measurement of blood fats,
particularly cholesterol, should become a part of all routine
physical examinations. If you fall into a high risk group on the
basis of these tests or if you want to reduce your chances of
heart disease, here are some recommendations and some ways to
help carry them out:
To reduce fat, trim away all visible fat and boil, bake, or broil
rather than fry meats.
To reduce the fat in dairy products, use skim milk or 1% low fat
milk and milk products.
To substitute polyunsaturated oils for saturated fat, use
margarines which list liquid oil as the first ingredient on the
label instead of butter.
To reduce cholesterol, eat egg yolks only three times a week.
To keep your weight down, participate in routine physical
exercise and control your calorie intake.
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