Although everyone seems more frightened by risk of getting cancer, it is heart disease that is the number one killer of men and women alike in this country. One of the key risk factors for heart disease is an elevated blood cholesterol level. This is because cholesterol and fat attach to the walls of the coronary arteries (a process known as atherosclerosis), narrowing them and reducing the flow of blood and nutrients to the heart. It is important to know how to clean up your arteries by controlling fat in your diet, something few people do, even though it is so simple to learn.
Angina, or chest pain, happens when reduced blood flow starves the heart of oxygen. If the blood supply is completely cut off, you will experience a heart attack. Similarly, if narrowed vessels cut off the blood supply to the brain, you will experience a stroke. Here are a few things you should know about how you can clean up your arteries by controlling the fat and cholesterol in your diet:
- Cholesterol occurs naturally in many different part of the body and is something that your body uses to produce bile acids, hormones and Vitamin D. Your body requires only a small amount of cholesterol to accomplish these functions; the extra gets deposited in arteries.
- Cholesterol is transported in the blood via lipoproteins. Because cholesterol is a fatty, waxy substance, it does not mix with blood (which is water-based). Thus, the cholesterol made in the liver is combined with a protein to make lipoproteins that carry fats around the body. There are two types of lipoproteins, which have become commonly known as "bad" and "good" cholesterol.
- Low-density lipoprotein (LDL), known as the "bad" cholesterol, carries most of the cholesterol in the blood, and is also the primary source of the deposits in coronary arteries. The higher the LDL cholesterol level in the blood, the greater the risk of heart disease. Treatment to reduce cholesterol focuses on reducing the LDL component of your blood.
- High-density lipoprotein (HDL), known as the "good" cholesterol, carries LDL cholesterol back to the liver where it can be eliminated. Having a high HDL level helps to prevent cholesterol buildup in the arteries.
You have no control over some risk factors for coronary heart disease, including age (45 years or older for men and 55 years or older for women). But you do have control over many other lifestyle issues, including diet, your weight, exercise, smoking and control of diabetes. If you have received a diagnosis of high blood cholesterol, you can help to clean up your arteries by controlling fat in your diet with a low fat low cholesterol diet. You will need to pay attention to several kinds of fat in your diet:
- Saturated fat: Saturated fat will raise your LDL cholesterol level more than anything else in the diet. Studies have shown that in both men and women of diverse ages and ethnicity, lowering dietary saturated fat will reduce blood cholesterol. Saturated fat is a type of fat found mostly in foods that come from animals: Think of the fat on a steak and you'll have a good visual for saturated fat. (Saturated fat is close to a solid at room temperature.) Another factor that may contribute to the unhealthfulness of saturated fat is the oxidation that occurs during cooking
- Trans fat: While both saturated and trans fat increase the levels of LDL cholesterol in your blood, trans fat also lowers the levels of HDL cholesterol. Trans fat is fat that has been hydrogenated, which means that the chemical structure of an unsaturated fat is changed by adding hydrogen atoms to make the fat more saturated. Trans fat is the type of fat present in margarine. Because trans fat increases shelf life, it is also found in manufactured foods.
- Cholesterol: Cholesterol comes only from animal products such as meat, eggs, dairy products, poultry, and seafood. Organ meats such as brains and liver have especially high levels of cholesterol.
In short, maintain healthy eating habits, increase your consumption of fresh fruits and vegetables and decrease your consumption of saturated fats, animal products, and manufactured foods, particularly those made with hydrogenated oils. If lifestyle changes and controlling fat in your diet are not enough to lower your blood cholesterol, you may be put on a drug regime.