Friday, April 5, 2013

How Harmful is Cholesterol? (5 of 6)

To jump start this blog, I will be doing a series on "Fats." I'm excited to begin this journey learning about fats because it's everyone's favorite topic and one that is highly controversial.

Pork Charsiu and Pork Belly

We've now understood that our body needs fats and why it's important to eat the right kinds of fat and avoid the wrong kinds of fat. Let's now take a look at cholesterol.

Cholesterol is often referred to as a fat, but it's actually a heavyweight alcohol with a hormone-like structure that behaves like a fat, being insoluble in water and in blood. Cholesterol, however, has a coating of a compound called a lipoprotein, which makes it water soluble so it can be carried in the blood. High-density lipoproteins (HDL) carry cholesterol away from the cells to the liver, and low-density lipoproteins (LDL) carry cholesterol to the cells. We speak of HDL as "good" cholesterol and LDL as "bad" cholesterol. However, both HDL and LDL play critical roles in body chemistry.

Benefits of Cholesterol

- Make hormones that help us deal with stress and protect against heart disease and cancer.
- Make all the sex hormones.
- Make vitamin D, vital for the bones and nervous system, proper growth, mineral metabolism, muscle tone, insulin production, reproduction, and immune system function.
- Make bile salts that is important for digestion and assimilation of dietary fats.
- Acts as an antioxidant, protecting us against free radical damage that leads to heart disease and cancer.
- Needed for proper function of serotonin receptors in the brain. It is the body's natural "feel-good" chemical. Low cholesterol levels have been linked to aggressive and violent behavior, depression, and suicidal tendencies. 
- Mother's milk is especially rich in cholesterol because it's essential for growth and the development of the brain and nervous system of the baby.
- Babies and children need cholesterol-rich foods throughout their growing years to ensure proper development of the brain and nervous system.
- Plays and important role in maintaining the health of the intestinal wall.
- Repair damaged cells.

We see how important cholesterol is for our body. The general public still believes that high cholesterol results in heart disease, even though many studies have shown that the opposite is true. Naturally produced in the body and naturally present in the foods we eat, cholesterol is a repair substance that actually helps heal arterial damage and a potent antioxidant weapon against free radical in the blood. 

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We all know that high LDL will put us at risk for cardiovascular diseases. What most of us don't know is that there are 2 kinds of LDL:

1. Large Buoyant LDL: It is the neutral one. It is light, carried through the bloodstream, they don't get underneath the edge of endothelial cells and start the plague formation.
2. Small, dense LDL: This is the bad one. They are small and dense, don't float, they get underneath the edge of endothelial cells and they start the plague formation. 

When we measure LDL, we measure both of them together because it's too hard to distinguish the two. When we see our total LDL, it comprises of the neutral ones and the bad ones. How can we tell if our LDL is the neutral one or the bad one? Look at the triglyceride level. What you want is a low triglyceride and a high HDL. What you don't want is a high triglyceride level and a low HDL. This is the formula for heart attack. Triglyceride to HDL ratio predicts cardiovascular disease better than LDL. 

Dietary fat raises the neutral LDL (the good one). What raises the small dense LDL?

- Addition of fructose. From processed foods that contains high fructose corn syrup (55% fructose) and sucrose (50% fructose).
- Removal of fiber. People used to consume a lot more fiber than we do now. Why? Fibrous food takes too long to cook, to eat, and has short shelf life. Fast food is an example of fiberless food (maybe other than salad). You will rarely see any fiber in fast food. They take the fiber out so that they can freeze it, ship it, and cook it fast. 
- Substitution of trans fats. Trans fats increases our LDL which puts us at risk for coronary heart disease.

So if you have a high LDL, it's time to cut down on sugar (especially refined sugar), eat more fiber (e.g. whole vegetables and fruits, not juice), stop eating fast food and processed foods which contain trans fats.

You can learn more about this topic here:
Cholesterol: Friend or Foe?
Cholesterol Lowering and Lowfat Diets for Children
The Benefits of High Cholesterol

We will be summarizing this series in the next post. Stay tuned.

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