Most of us are guilty of sneaking in junk foods into our mouth every now and then, for some it is purely out of hunger; probably you are on-the-go and just need to grab a bite while for others it has become a habit. Some parents have formed the habit of giving their kids junk food as a treat every weekend to make up for not being able to spend much time with their kids during the week because of work or business. These junk food are high is cholesterol.
Cholesterol is something we see on labels of lots of food when we go to the grocery stores; it is very common to see foods with labels that say “low in cholesterol”. What is cholesterol, and why is it important we check our cholesterol levels?
Cholesterol is a type of fat (lipid) in the blood. Your cells need cholesterol and your body makes enough cholesterol to meet that need, the liver produces cholesterol but we also get cholesterol from the food we eat; meat, fish, eggs, butter, cheese, milk all have cholesterol, your body need cholesterol to continue building healthy cells, to help your brain, skin and other organs grow and function well in the body. Cholesterol is also important for the formation of vitamin D, certain hormones and cell membranes; cholesterol even helps us digest food.
Cholesterol floats around in the blood and can get stuck in the walls of blood vessels and stay there, if you have too much cholesterol in your blood stream, a lot can collect in the blood vessel walls, causing the blood vessels to become narrower, this can clog the blood vessels and prevent blood from moving freely, if the clogging gets worse over time, it can cause damage to important body parts like the heart (heart attack) and the brain (stroke), both kids and adults can have too much cholesterol in the blood, so it is best to watch what your kids consume if you are a parent.
When you have high cholesterol, you may develop fatty deposits in your blood vessels, eventually these deposits make it difficult for enough blood to flow through your arteries, your heart may not get as much oxygen-rich blood as it needs, which increases the risk of a heart attack, decreased blood flow to your brain can cause a Stroke.
High cholesterol can be inherited but it is often the result of unhealthy lifestyle choices, so it is preventable and treatable by a healthy diet and regular exercise, it is can be treated by medications as well.
Let me go a bit deeper into cholesterol; do not worry as I will try to keep it simple so you understand it better. Cholesterol is carried through the blood, attached to proteins, this combination of protein and cholesterol is called lipoprotein. There are two types of protein;
·Low-density lipoprotein(LDL): This is also called the “bad” cholesterol, LDL cholesterol builds up in the walls of your arteries making them hard and narrow, LDL contributes to plaque formation, which clogs arteries, leading to heart attack or stroke
·High-density lipoprotein(HDL): This is known as the “good” cholesterol, it picks up excess cholesterol in the blood and takes it back to the liver .so actually what HDL does is to help remove LDL from the arteries by carrying it away from the arteries and back into the liver, where it is removed from the body. Healthy HDL levels protect against heart disease, whereas low HDL levels have been shown to increase your risk of cardiovascular problem
WHAT CAUSES HIGH CHOLESTEROL
High cholesterol is prevalent among those who have a family history of high cholesterol, additionally eating excess carbohydrates and calories contribute, the under listed contribute to high cholesterol in the blood:
Eating saturated fat, found in animal products, trans fat found in commercially baked cookies and crackers can raise your cholesterol level, foods high in cholesterol such as red meat and full fat dairy products will also increase your total cholesterol.
Genetic Condition: It is a condition that is passed through genes, causing high cholesterol, this condition is called Familial hypercholesterolemia, people who have this condition have cholesterol levels of 300mg/dL or higher.
Obesity: Having a body mass index (BMI) of 30 or greater puts you at risk of high cholesterol.
Large Waist Circumference: Your risk increases if you are a man with a waist circumference of at least 40inches (102 centimeters ) or a woman with a waist circumference of at least 35 inches (89 centimeters)
Lack of Exercise: Exercise helps boost your body’s HDL or “good” cholesterol
Smoking: Cigarette smoking damages the walls of your blood vessels, making them likely to accumulate fatty deposits.
Diabetes: High blood sugar contributes to higher LDL cholesterol and lowers HDL cholesterol. High blood sugar also damages the lining of your arteries.
COMPLICATIONS OF HIGH CHOLESTEROL
High cholesterol can cause atherosclerosis, a dangerous accumulation of cholesterol and other deposits on the walls of your arteries. These deposits (plaques) can reduce blood flow through your arteries which can cause complications such as:
Chest pain: If the arteries that supply your heart with blood (coronary arteries) are affected, you may have chest pain (angina) and other symptoms of coronary artery diseases.
Heart Attack: If plaques tear or rupture, a blood clot may form at the plaque-rupture site, blocking the flow of blood, if blood flow to part of your heart stops, you will have a heart attack.
Stroke: Similar to a heart attack, if blood flow to part of your brain is blocked by a blood clot, a stroke occurs.
Prevention of High Cholesterol
To help prevent high cholesterol, you can:
•Limit the amount of animal fats and use good fat in moderation
•Eat a low-salt diet that includes fruits, vegetables and whole grains
•Exercise on most days of the week for at least 30 minutes (a brisk walk for 30mins will do)
•Drink alcohol in moderation id at all (preferably red wine)
•Eat high fiber foods like whole-wheat bread, oats, beans, leafy green vegetables and fruits
•Replace salt in your diet with herbs and spices which are loaded with anti-oxidants and anti-inflammatory properties; garlic, onion, cayenne pepper, turmeric, thyme oil and ginger are able to stabilize fat in the cell membranes, leading to lower triglycerides, which plays a role in cholesterol level as well
•Avoid fried food as frying causes foods to lose water and suck up far, making them calorie dense, also the oils foods are fried in, are often high in trans fats, if you must fry, consider using olive oil, but sincerely if you ask me, I think you should grill instead of fry
•Avoid hydrogenated oil, these are trans fats found in packaged food such as cookies, pastries, mayonnaise. Check food labels, if you see the word ‘hydrogenated’ on the ingredients list, do not buy it.
•Limit your meat consumption, meat tend to contain unhealthy saturated fats which can increase bad cholesterol levels. Meat with visible fat are unwise choices, when you cook meat, trim off any visible fat and avoid the skin of chicken and turkey
Limit the intake of full-fat dairy products such as ice cream, cheese, whole milk, whole-fat yogurt as they contain saturated far, choose dairy products that are fat-free or low-fat
High cholesterol can be detected by having a blood test carried out, this test measures total cholesterol, low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol, high-density lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol and triglycerides, there is no symptom to watch out for in high cholesterol, the symptoms you may get will be that of the complications, so do not wait to experience certain symptoms, if you are over 20 years of age, you should have you cholesterol levels checked every four to six years, if you already have high cholesterol in your blood or is your family has a history of high cholesterol, you should get have the test done more often.
For those who already have high cholesterol levels, you have to change your lifestyle and make smart food choices in order to lower your cholesterol level and safely reduce your risk of a heart disease, here are a few ways to lower your cholesterol levels:
•Eat more fiber; fruits, beans, lentils, nuts, spinach, potato(with skin on) and carrots
•Go for plant based protein, swap the cholesterol laden red meat for a more heart friendly plant protein instead; beans, lentils, quinoa
•If you are overweight or obese, try to lose extra pounds and maintain a healthy weight
•Exercise: Moderate physical activity can help raise the good HDL cholesterol
•Take lots of green tea, it has significant impact on cholesterol levels by lowering LDL cholesterol (the bad kind)
•Eat dark chocolate: Cocoa powder has been found in increase the HDL(good cholesterol) and lower the LDL (bad cholesterol)in men with high cholesterol, same benefits can be obtained eating dark chocolates with high levels of cocoa in it.
•You may also need medication to treat high cholesterol if you: Have had a heart attack, stroke, angina, or peripheral artery disease, if you have very high LDL levels (190 mg/dl or higher) or have familial hypercholesterolemia
Please know that the higher your blood cholesterol level, the greater your risks for developing heart disease or having a heart attack!
“When you have high cholesterol, you may develop fatty deposits in your blood vessels, eventually these deposits make it difficult for enough blood to flow through your arteries, your heart may not get as much oxygen-rich blood as it needs, which increases the risk of a heart attack, decreased blood flow to your brain can cause a stroke”
Food 4 Thought
Women’s cholesterol levels fluctuate over their lifespan.
Though women tend to have lower cholesterol levels than men, they may experience a roller coaster ride in levels throughout their lives. During pregnancy, a woman’s cholesterol levels rise; this is thought to help babies’ brains develop. And cholesterol-rich breast milk is thought to be heart-protective for babies as they age. Post-pregnancy, cholesterol levels should return to normal but after menopause, women’s LDL cholesterol levels go up, while protective HDL levels decline. By age 75, women tend to have higher cholesterol levels than men.