Healthy Eating - Cholesterol and Fat

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Cholesterol and Fats

Cholesterol is made by the liver and found in the blood.  You can also get cholesterol through the food you eat, this is called dietary cholesterol. The amount of cholesterol made by the liver depends on a combination of diet (more cholesterol in your diet means less cholesterol will be made by the liver) and inherited factors.  High levels of cholesterol in the blood increases the risk of heart disease and build up of cholesterol in the blood vessels.  The diagrams below show how cholesterol can build up in arteries.  This causes them to narrow and as a consequence your blood pressure will rise.  Pieces of plaque (cholesterol) can cause strokes if they are dislodged from an artery wall and transported to the brain where they can obstruct the flow of blood.

artherosclerosis

The negative effects of cholesterol are well known.  However, cholesterol is essential to make bile, cell membranes and certain hormones such as testosterone and oestrogen.  It belongs to a class of molecules called steroids.

Cholesterol cannot dissolve and in the blood and has to be carried around your body by lipoproteins.  There are two types of lipoprotein:  Low-Density Lipoproteins (LDLs) are 'bad' cholesterol and can cause heart disease.  High-Density Lipoproteins (HDLs) are 'good' cholesterol.  Many medical experts think HDLs carry cholesterol away from the arteries and back to the liver where it is removed from the blood.  Balancing the levels of HDLs and LDLs is very important to good heart health.

Saturated fats, found in animal fats like meat, butter and cheese, increase blood cholesterol levels.  Monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats both help to reduce blood cholesterol levels and help to improve the balance between HDLs and LDLs.  Monounsaturated fats are found in foods like olive oil and peanuts.  Polyunsaturated fats are found in sunflower oil and many margarines.

Statins

Statins are drugs that can lower the amount of cholesterol in the blood.  This can decrease the risk of heart attacks or strokes.  Oyster mushrooms contain naturally occuring statins.  Liver damage is a side-effect that has been associated with the use of statins.  Around one in three people over the age of 40 regularly take statins in England. A review of their effectiveness suggest they have little effect at protecting people who are not already at a high risk of heart disease [If you are interested in finding out more see the Daily Telegraph]

Salt

Salt is an essential part of your diet and without it your nervous system would not work properly and you would also upset many chemical processes in the body.  However, too much salt in the diet can lead to increased blood pressure for about 30% of the population.  Processed foods often contain a high proportion of fat and/or salt.  You can control your salt intake by doing your own cooking and reading food labels carefully to check for the levels of salt and saturated fat.