Health and Nutrition

by Scarlett Crews


Understanding Cholesterol

For what seems like forever, doctors and health professionals have lectured about cholesterol and its ill-effects.  Those suffering from heart disease have been told to cut out all diet cholesterol and eat a low-fat diet.  Sound familiar?  In response to this guideline, many people are left eating food that is low in fat and low in cholesterol, which also happens to be high in carbohydrates (usually processed!).  

How do I have high cholesterol in the first place?

Genes play a role, like they do in everything else, but that is only one small piece to be blamed.  Elevated cholesterol is a result of increased inflammation, poor diet, poor exercise habits, poor sleeping habits and too much physical, emotional and mental stress.  Easy fix, right?  Eliminating cholesterol from your diet isn’t going to magically erase years of body damage.

Is fat bad for my heart?

Short answer; no.  Long answer; not really.  There are several types of fat that are digested differently.  Unsaturated fats are great for your heart!  These include the heart-healthy omega-3 fatty acids and are found in foods like olives, avocados, olive oil, nuts and seeds.  Saturated fats are found in animal products and are solid at room temperature.  These include butter, fatty cuts of meat and even coconut and its oil.  Saturated fat has long been seen as an evil; however, some saturated fat is necessary!  The worst of all: trans fats.  These fats are your heart’s worst enemy.  They are found mostly in highly processed foods with the ingredients “hydrogenated oils”.  These fats have no place in a healthy diet!  Balance a healthy diet with mostly unsaturated poly and mono fats, moderate amounts of saturated fat and zero trans fats!

What actually does increase my cholesterol?

Total cholesterol is comprised of lipoproteins: HDL (good), LDL (bad), VLDL and Triglycerides.  The two major food players in increasing serum (or blood) cholesterol and triglycerides are processed carbohydrates and trans fats.  These two are found in highly processed foods like crackers, cookies, chips and all sorts of “bars.”  Inflammation and stress play a big role in increasing cholesterol as well.  Inflammation comes from internal and environmental stress like a sedentary lifestyle, lack of sleep, too much or too little exercise and even road rage.  Stress triggers a hormonal response that can lead to increased cholesterol levels.

Leading a healthy lifestyle can be confusing with so many opposing ideas of what to do, but one thing is for sure:  sleep well, eat well, exercise and promote a stress-free environment.  Follow this and you will be on the right path to decreased cholesterol and increased health.

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About the Author

Scarlett Crews is a Registered Dietitian, Licensed Dietitian Nutritionist, and the Food & Nutrition Project Manager at Omaha Steaks. Scarlett addresses a wide variety of topics in the areas of nutrition trends, facts and foes, and great guidelines to follow for a healthy lifestyle.

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