Sunday, June 9, 2013

The low down on Cholesterol

Cholesterol is a substance  found in the fats (lipids) in your blood. The body needs some cholesterol in order to function properly. The body, however, requires only a limited amount of cholesterol to meet its needs. When too much is present health problems such as heart disease may develop. 
Cholesterol is carried through the blood, attached to proteins. Cholesterol cannot dissolve in the blood but
 has to be transported to and from the cells by carriers called lipoproteins.   You may have heard of different types of cholesterol, based on what type of cholesterol the lipoprotein carries. 
The two main types of lipoproteins are:
Low-density lipoprotein (LDL) carries cholesterol from the liver to the cells of the body. Together with other substances, it can form plaque, a thick, hard deposit that can narrow the arteries and make them less flexible. This condition is known as atherosclerosis and is the reason why LDL has been dubbed the "bad" cholesterol. The target values for LDL cholsterol: <3.0mmol/l; 70-130 mg/dl.
High-density lipoprotein (HDL), on the other hand, helps lower your risk of heart disease, so it’s known as the “good” cholesterol. HDL scours the cholesterol from blood vessel walls and carries it back to the liver. The liver then either uses the excess cholesterol to make bile acids, which are essential to digestion, or eliminates it from the body. The target values for HDL cholesterol: >1.2 mmol/l; more than 40-60 mg/dl.
The target values for total cholesterol: <5.0 mmol/l; Total cholesterol: less than 200 mg/dl. A low level of HDL cholesterol and a high level of LDL cholesterol in the blood will place you at risk of heart disease. A blood test known as a lipoprotein profile can measure your LDL, HDL and tryglycerides.
The great news is that factors within your control, such as how active you are and what you eat, contribute to low LDL cholesterol and high HDL cholesterol.

Risk factors for heart disease and most likely high cholesterol include:
  • Smoking
  • Obesity
  • Lack of exercise
  • Poor diet
  • Diabetes
  • High blood pressure
  • Family history of heart disease (genetic factors)
How can cholesterol levels be lowered? 
The main goal in lowering cholesterol is to lower LDL and raise your HDL. There are two key ways to lower cholesterol: consume a heart-healthy diet and take cholesterol-lowering medication. The first step should always be dietary intervention.
Use the following tips to help lower your cholesterol levels...
1. Eat more unsaturated fats (such as olive and canola oils) and fewer saturated and trans fats (such as butter, margarine, and shortening found in many processed and commercial baked goods).
It was once thought that eating too many cholesterol-containing foods (such as eggs) was the major dietary cause of high blood cholesterol level. But we now know that eating large amounts of foods containing saturated fats is a bigger problem and has a much greater influence on blood cholesterol levels.
Make sure you know what foods contain hidden fats for example muffins, croissants, rusks, biscuits, crisps, chocolates, health bars, instant soups, creamed soups, salad dressings, mayonnaise, pies, gravy, coffee creamers, nougat, ice cream, milkshakes, biltong, croutons, quiches, sausage, popcorn, nuts, etc.
2. Eat more colourful, nutrient-loaded fruits and vegetables. The main characteristic of any heart friendly diet is an abundance of plant food (fruits, vegetables, whole-grain cereals and legumes).

Legumes include dry, cooked or canned beans, lentils, peas and all the soya products (cooked or canned soya beans, soya mince, cubes, milk, tofu and tempeh). Legumes have a high fibre content, are naturally low in fat and they don’t contain any cholesterol

3. Eat more fibre-filled whole grains, and fewer refined carbohydrates (white starches). Insoluble fibre is found in the skin, peels, and husks of fruits, vegetables, and whole grains. It passes through your digestive tract without breaking down and helps prevent constipation and other digestive disorders. Eating more fibre aids to fill you up without filling you out!

Soluble fibre is chiefly in oats, legumes (beans and peas) and fruit flesh.  Soluble fibre decreases the level of LDL cholesterol in the blood, reducing the risk of heart disease.
Add oatbran to your breakfast or when baking and have a bowl of oats (not instant) every day to keep your cholesterol in check.
Increase the amount of fibre in your diet by making at least half of your servings of grain products, each day, whole grains such as whole grain breads, high fibre cereals, brown rice and whole wheat pasta.
4. Reduce the amount of red meat you consume and rather substitute it with fish or poultry. Researchers have discovered that people who eat fish rich in omega-3 fatty acids three or more times a week are less likely to suffer from heart disease and high blood pressure. Replace some of the meat in your meals with legumes or soy protein meat substitutes. They are low in saturated fat and legumes are high in fibre.
5. Plant Sterols have been shown to decrease LDL cholesterol levels as they compete with cholesterol for absorption in the gut. Plant sterols naturally occur in seeds, nuts, legumes and some breads and cereals. It is important to consume the recommended quantities of these products to achieve a decrease in cholesterol, so always remember to check the food labels. A popular product in South Africa includes Flora pro-activ.

6. Choose fat free or low-fat dairy products such as fat free cottage cheese or mozzarella instead of cheddar or Gouda  Replace the full cream milk in your diet with low fat or fat free milk.

7. Keeping active is also an important part of keeping cholesterol levels healthy. Try to be physically active  for 30-60 minutes each day.

8. Use care when cooking- For lower-fat cooking methods choose grilling, baking or boiling, steaming or poaching instead of frying. Also trim any visible fat before cooking and drain fat from the pan after cooking.

9. When eating out, ask questions about how the food is prepared before ordering.

10. Limit your intake of high fat take out and restaurant foods. Prepare healthy meals at home.

11. Read labels while shopping. Look at the fat content. Choose mostly products with less than 3 g fat per 100g. 

The Dietitan's Life Xx

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