Cholesterol is a waxy, fat-like substance that can be called the “essential evil”. It performs many important functions like production of vitamin D and hormones that form the structure of the cell walls.
It also helps in the build-up of bile salts in the intestine. Cholesterol plays a major role in our body and we may not be able to live a healthy life without it. But for all these functions, choles terol is produced by the liver in small amounts; the trouble arises from the cholesterol which is taken in from the food we consume. Dietary cholesterol is contributed by animal foods like meat, egg yolk, cheese, saturated fats and trans fats found in baked products, deep-fried food items and processed foods. High levels of cholesterol or hypercholesterolemia is a major risk factor for coronary heart disease. The accumulation of cholesterol gradually leads to narrowing of the arteries, which is called atherosclerosis. This is mainly the result of plague formation that restricts blood flow to the heart.
Total cholesterol is made up of two parcels – HDL or good cholesterol and LDL or bad cholesterol.
High levels of LDL plague the arteries, whereas HDL helps the liver in the removal of excess cholesterol and thus, protects the heart.
So, low-fat diet is the key to safe guarding the heart and ensuring that it pumps well. Also, don’t forget to focus on the type of low-fat food you are consuming.
Some good fats – the monopoly MUFA monounsaturated fatty acids
These help to lower the LDL (bad) and increase the HDL (good) cholesterol in the body; they have also been found to aid weight loss, particularly fat loss.
MUFA-based oils like canola oil, safflower seed oil, olive oil and rice bran oil help in maintaining the cells in your body. They are also high in vitamin E. Nuts like peanuts, walnuts, almonds, pistachios as well as avo cados are rich sources of MUFA.
PUFA polyunsaturated fatty acids
These help lower overall cholesterol levels in the body. The fats are not made by the body but are nevertheless essential for it. You can find PUFAs in salmon, fish oil, safflower seed oil, sunflower oil, vegetable oil, soy and corn. Most of these foods and oils are rich in Omega-3 and Omega-6 fatty acids, which aid the development of your brain and keep the body healthy.
Remember, “Monopoly” (Monosaturated fatty acids + Polyunsaturated fatty acids) are healthy fats that help you attain better cholesterol control.
Bad fats saturated fats
They are found in meat, high-in-fat dairy products, egg yolk and in some plant sources including co conut oil, palm t kernel oil, palm oil and cottonseed oil.
While the body does use these fats for its structural and physiological functions, it makes enough of its own saturated fats to meet these needs. Therefore, you don’t need to consume them from an external source. WHO (World Health Organisa tion) and FDA (Food and Drug Administration) has asked people to reduce their intake of satu rated fats due to their links with high cholesterol and coronary heart diseases.
Invented by scientists, trans fats are a completely man-made problem and are a result of the process of “hydrogenation” of liquid oils. They are used to increase the shelf life of food items.
When consumed on a daily basis, they can increase bad cholesterol, risk of heart problems, Alzheimer’s, different types of cancer, diabetes, and of course, obesity.
But what are labels for? When buying processed and packaged foods, make sure you read the label carefully. It will help you spot the bad boys and decide whether that food item is indeed healthy for your body. Food manufacturing companies can’t go without indicating the presence of trans fats in their food product. So, all you have to do is watch out for it.
By Pooja Makhija, Consulting Nutritionist & Clinical Dietician