Many people are concerned about cholesterol. Such as, how much is in their blood and what foods contain it. There is good reason to worry. Heart disease is the #1 killer of Canadians and many of us know that too much cholesterol in our blood increases our risk for this disease. February is Heart Month so I thought some discussion on this notorious fat was warranted.
Cholesterol is not the nasty villain most people believe. It is a natural substance found in animals and humans. Your body needs cholesterol to make hormones, vitamin D, and all of the cells in your body. Your body makes different types of cholesterol from the fat we eat, two of them being HDL and LDL.
The “good” cholesterol is HDL cholesterol (High Density Lipoprotein). It’s good because it circulates through your body to pick up fats and excrete them from your body. High levels of HDL in your blood may DECREASE your risk of heart disease and stroke.
The “bad” cholesterol is LDL cholesterol (Low Density Lipoprotein). LDL builds up on your artery walls leading to plaque formation. Too much LDL cholesterol in your blood INCREASES your risk of heart disease and stroke.
*[Image Goes Here]* Cholesterol is found only in foods of animal origin such as meat, poultry, fish, egg yolks and dairy products. Canada’s Food Guide to Healthy Eating suggests eating smaller amounts of these foods (and preferably their lean or lower-fat versions), while emphasizing plant based foods because, cholesterol starts to cause problems when there is too much of it in our blood. It is important to note however that the cholesterol in foods plays a small part in raising total blood cholesterol.
The type and amount of fat you choose to eat makes a bigger difference in your blood cholesterol level.
Saturated Fats, which are solid at room temperature, like butter, mayonnaise and the white stuff on the edge of your steak are easily made into cholesterol by our bodies, so they can cause your LDL cholesterol to rise. Try to eat less saturated fat.
Trans Fats are found in many processed foods that contain shortening or partially hydrogenated fats (like hard margarines, cookies, crackers, french fries and potato chips). This type of fat can also cause your LDL cholesterol levels to rise. It is best to avoid foods that contain trans-fat.
Polyunsaturated Fats found in plants and fish are liquid at room temperature. Omega-3 fats are a type of polyunsaturated fat. These fats can help lower your LDL cholesterol.
Monounsaturated Fats like olive and canola oil are also liquid at room temperature and help to lower LDL cholesterol.
Avoiding only cholesterol containing foods will not be completely effective in lowering your cholesterol. If your diet is high in fat (specifically in saturated and trans-fat), your body may be turning it into LDL cholesterol that in turn may be forming artery-clogging plaque. The message here is: eat LESS fat!
So how much is too much? The average man, should eat 90 grams of fat or less per day, the average woman, should eat 65 grams of fat or less per day. How does that translate into everyday eating? Learn to read food labels and pay attention to serving sizes. The 10 grams of fat in a “serving” of potato chips is only for 11 chips! That’s almost 1 gram of fat per chip. In addition, most people eat more than one serving which means a simple snack could cost you a third or even half of your daily fat requirement! *[Image Goes Here]*
To help keep your blood cholesterol levels lower, eat less fat – period. But of the fat you do eat, make sure it is the unsaturated kind. Save saturated and trans-fat containing foods for the occasional treat.
For more information on how to decrease your risk of heart disease and stroke, visit the Heart and Stroke Foundation of Canada. If you would like to learn more about healthy choices and reading food labels, contact the Thunder Bay District Health Unit – Nutrition Department to register for a free grocery store tour.
Back to Nutrition Articles