The changing reputation of fat and cholesterol

Fat is bad, right?  It is highly caloric, adds pounds and inches to the waistline, and is one cause of heart disease.  That is what we have been told for, well, a long time.  And don’t even mention cholesterol.  That guy packed his bags and was chased out of town long ago.

Not so fast. Healthy eating recommendations are changing once again.  It is enough to make a dietitian cry, or at least eat crow.

A new set of Dietary Guidelines will be out later this year, and the advisory committee has published its report for consideration.  These current recommendations are based on better research than in the past.  Here are some of the committee’s recommendations concerning fat and cholesterol.

  • 1.  Replace saturated fat (SFA) with unsaturated fat (PUFA).  This is not really new because we have been prompted for several years to eat less fatty meat and fewer whole fat dairy items, both sources of saturated fat.  In place of those foods folks are encouraged to include low-fat or non-fat dairy, fish, oils, nuts, dried beans, and monounsaturated sources such as avocados in daily eating plans.

Total fat is not considered the issue, but the type of fat is.

  • 2.   Along with the idea above, another recommendation is to eat less red and processed meats.  This will not only improve our health, but that of the environment as well.  Interesting that the committee chose to address the environment.
  • 3.  Do not be overly concerned with dietary cholesterol.  It used to be that the daily limit for cholesterol consumption was 300 mg. Eggs weigh in around 200 mg, so we were advised to limit eggs to one per day. But dietary cholesterol has lost some of its importance as far as heart disease is concerned.

Worthy of note, diabetics are still cautioned to not overdo their cholesterol intake due to heart disease risk.  And blood cholesterol, the type that is measured with blood tests, may still be a concern.  A person’s LDL or low density cholesterol, if elevated, can increase one’s risk of heart disease.

There are other recommendations to limit sugar, refined carbs, and alcohol in our diets.  And the committee is also concerned about young people and their high consumption of caffeinated beverages.

It will be interesting to see how many of the recommendations the Department of Health and Human Services and the USDA decide to include in the new Dietary Guidelines.

Advertisements

Managing cholesterol levels

In a few short days it will be Septembe,r and the National Cholesterol Education Month campaign will begin.  There have been other columns on heart health here recently, but I think a reminder about maintaining healthy cholesterol levels is appropriate.

‘This is fresh in my mind because I had to tweak my diet and exercise plans recently.  My cholesterol was up too high, and I managed to reduce my total cholesterol by 40 points with exercise and diet changes  Now I have to work to keep it there!

So what can one do to improve?

So glad you asked.  Here are a few suggestions:

Make soluble fiber a priority. This fiber dissolves in water and forms a gel that helps to trap and remove cholesterol from the body.  Aim for at least ten grams each day.

Soluble fiber is found in oats, barley, flax, legumes, carrots, citrus fruits, apples, pears, and dried beans and peas, just to name a few.  Along with the fiber, include plenty of fluids to help the fiber do its work.  Add soluble fiber slowly.  This fiber can have a laxative effect if eaten in high amounts all at once.

Reduce saturated fat.  The American Heart Association advises people to consume no more than seven percent of total calories as saturated fat.  For a 2000 calorie intake, that would be 16 grams or less.  A grilled cheese sandwich by itself could rack up 10 grams of saturated fat.

To reduce that saturated fat in your diet, choose only low or non-fat dairy products, soft tub margarines, and the lower fat cuts of meat such as loin and round cuts.  Better yet, substitute chicken, fish, or soy for some of the meat you prepare.  Have one or two meatless days each week.  (And pass on the donuts at the office.)

Substitute healthy oils for other sources of fat.  Extra virgin olive oil, canola oil, seeds and their oils, walnuts, almonds, and avocados are all healthy replacements for other fats. This only works well if the not-so-healthy fats are replaced by the oils and nuts instead of added to the diet.  Otherwise, you will also add extra calories to the day and could gain weight, which is counterproductive to cholesterol control.

Get rid of added trans fats.  Totally.  Get this down to zero.  Foods to avoid include those with partially hydrogenated fat in the ingredient label.  Examples are fried foods, baked items, buttery crackers, processed savory snacks, and desserts, especially store-bought varieties.

Exercise for 30 minutes most days of the week.  This will help increase the good cholesterol HDL, decrease weight (which helps normalize cholesterol, too), and improve health overall.  Start slowly and work up to your goal.  If you are out of shape, a visit to your doctor for the ok is necessary. ( I increased my walks from 30 minutes to 45 minutes or an hour.)

While visiting with the doctor, discuss using products that contain plant sterols and stanols. These plant compounds are similar in form to cholesterol and can block the absorption of it.

The above suggestions will work best along with a healthy diet that includes fruits, vegetables and whole grains.  (Check the Ottawa Cardiovascular Centre for more information of eating for healthy cholesterol levels.)

Findings ways to reduce cholesterol

September is here again, and the National Cholesterol Education Month campaign is underway.  This is the perfect month for starting something new such as setting new healthy eating goals to keep cholesterol in check and hearts beating strong.

One step toward this goal is to achieve optimal LDL levels. 

LDL, or low-density lipoprotein, is known as the bad cholesterol because it can build up in the arteries and then lead to blockages.  These blockages narrow the arteries and reduce the oxygen supply to the heart.   Such blockages can lead to heart attacks and strokes.

If your cholesterol levels could use some tweaking, consider the following suggestions for getting back on track.

Make soluble fiber a priority. This fiber dissolves in water and forms a gel that helps to trap and remove bile acids from the body.  Bile acids are important for fat digestion and are made from cholesterol.  Current thinking is that as the bile is removed from the body, cholesterol is then needed to make more bile and cholesterol is then reduced. Aim for at least ten grams of soluble fiber each day.

Soluble fiber is found in oats, barley, flax, legumes, carrots, citrus fruits, apples, pears, and dried beans and peas, just to name a few.  Along with the fiber, include plenty of fluids to help the fiber do its work.  Add soluble fiber slowly.  This fiber can have a laxative effect if eaten in high amounts all at once.

Reduce saturated fat.  The type of fat increases LDL. The American Heart Association advises people to consume no more than seven percent of total calories as saturated fat.  For a 2000 calorie intake, that would be 16 grams or less.  A grilled cheese sandwich could easily rack up 10 grams of saturated fat. 

To reduce that saturated fat in your diet, choose only low or non-fat dairy products, soft tub margarines, and the lower fat cuts of meat such as loin and round cuts.  Better yet, substitute chicken and fish for some of the meat you prepare.  Or try soy crumbles, tempeh, and tofu.  Try for one or two meatless days each week.  (And pass on the donuts at the office.)

Substitute healthy oils for other sources of fat.  Extra virgin olive oil, canola oil, seeds and their oils, walnuts, almonds, and avocadoes are all healthy replacements for other fats. This only works well if the not-so-healthy fats are replaced by the oils and nuts instead of added to the diet.  Otherwise, you will also add extra calories to the day and could gain weight, which is counterproductive to cholesterol control.

Get rid of added trans fats.  Totally.  Get this down to zero.  Foods to avoid include those with partially hydrogenated fat in the ingredient label.  Read those labels.  Examples of such foods are fried foods, baked items, buttery crackers, processed savory snacks, and desserts, especially store-bought varieties.

Exercise for 30 minutes most days of the week.  This will help increase the good cholesterol HDL, decrease weight (which helps normalize cholesterol, too), and improve health overall.  Start slowly and work up to your goal.  If you are out of shape, a visit to your doctor for the ok is necessary.

Reduce sugar consumption.   I think we all eat more sugar than we need.  High sugar foods take the place of healthier options and add few nutrients.  

Bake and roast more, fry less.  This will decrease calories, fat, and mess in the kitchen.  Try broth, wine or water for softening onions, celery, carrots, and the like.

While visiting with the doctor, discuss using products that contain plant sterols and stanols. These plant compounds are similar in form to cholesterol and can block the absorption of it.  Plant stanols and sterols are found in certain brands of margarines, milk, yogurt, juices, and salad dressings. 

If your doctor suggests drugs to help lower cholesterol, remember that the drugs will work best with continued dietary changes and regular exercise.

Both the Cleveland Clinic and the Mayo Clinic offer helpful information about the current cholesterol guidelines.