Is Dietary Cholesterol Really Bad for You?

February is Heart Month. This month brings back memories of my father. It was twenty years ago, on February 4, my father passed away from a massive heart attack due to coronary artery disease.

Heart disease kills people. How can we stop this killer?

Healthy diet and healthy lifestyle are two weapons we can use.

When we talk about healthy diet, we mean diet low in saturated fats and trans-fats. Saturated fat is present in full fat dairy products, animal fats and several types of oil. Trans-fat is most often encountered in margarine and hydrogenated vegetable fat, many fast foods, snack foods and fried or baked goods.

Over the years, studies in humans have not provided convincing evidence for an impact of cholesterol intake on coronary artery disease (CAD). Rather, these studies have consistently established a close association between a certain eating pattern and the risk of CAD.

This eating pattern has usually been characterized by a high intake of total fat, low intake of fiber and polyunsaturated fatty acids found mainly in fish (omega-3), corn, soybean and safflower oil (rich in omega-3).

So, is dietary cholesterol really bad for your heart?

The body produces enough cholesterol for our needs. Cholesterol is essential for all animal life. It’s an important part of a healthy body because it’s used to form cell membranes, some hormones and is needed for other functions. It has to travel to different cells to meet its cholesterol demand. In order to travel in the blood, cholesterol is carried by two kinds of lipoproteins – low-density lipoprotein (LDL) and high-density lipoprotein (HDL).

LDL cholesterol is referred to as “bad cholesterol,” because it contributes to atherosclerosis, which is a build-up of cholesterol in the arteries and it leads to heart disease. If too much LDL cholesterol circulates in the blood, it can slowly build up in the walls of the arteries feeding the heart and brain. Together with other substances it can form plaque, a thick, hard deposit that can clog those arteries. This condition is known as atherosclerosis.

HDL cholesterol is often called “good cholesterol,” because it carries cholesterol from other parts of the body back to the liver to be removed from the body.

When you get a fasting blood test for cholesterol profile, which parameter is the most important? As the pundits say, “In politics, it is the economy, stupid.” When it comes to heart disease it is the blood level of LDL which is important……stupid. Did I just say that?

Ok, I said that. Because we worry too much about eating low cholesterol diet but forget that our real enemy is LDL. Experts have proved that total fat intake; especially saturated fat and trans-fats are the major players in the LDL synthesis in blood. Data indicate that dietary cholesterol has little effect on the blood LDL.

Eat right and exercise regularly and get control of your real enemy: LDL. In the next few articles we will continue our discussion on how to defend our blood vessels against this killer.

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