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Fats and Protein General Health In the News Uncategorized Weighty Issues!

Lower Cholesterol through Nutrition

Cholesterol has been given a bad name, and the general public has been led to believe that high cholesterol itself is the cause of heart disease. In the last few years however, there has been a small backlash against this way of thinking – the “cholesterol sceptics”, who say that high cholesterol is nothing to worry about. In fact, both arguments appear to have their flaws.

What is Cholesterol and Why Do Our Levels Increase?

Cholesterol is a natural substance made by the body. It is essential to our survival and needed for basic cellular health, our nervous system, digestive system (cholesterol is needed to form bile) and is also a precursor to steroid hormones and vitamin D.

So why would our cholesterol levels increase? Although eating high levels of saturated fat is thought to cause a small increase in cholesterol, the advice for everyone to lower saturated fat intake as far as possible has been misleading for a number of reasons. Firstly, most cholesterol is actually made by the body and has little to do with cholesterol or fat content in food. Secondly, saturated fats play a beneficial role in our health, when eaten in moderation. For more information on the benefits of healthy fats, read a previous blog I wrote, as it’s too much to fit into one blog! It’s thought that our bodies start making more cholesterol as a protective response to damage or illness. This is why high cholesterol is often seen in conjunction with disease, and can therefore be a good indicator that something is out of balance, but does not mean cholesterol itself causes the disease. This would also imply that lowering cholesterol is not the “cure” for a disease as well.

Cholesterol is carried around our body in little packages called lipoproteins, which contain other substances as well, not just cholesterol. Information can be confusing, because lipoproteins and cholesterol are often talked about as the same thing, when in fact they are not – and people can be told they have high cholesterol, when in fact it’s the lipoprotein numbers that are up. The newest thinking proposes that the connection between cholesterol and heart disease is actually due to damage which occurs to the packages (lipoproteins) carrying the cholesterol around the body. The lipoproteins are delicate and are prone to damage from toxins, infections, high blood sugar levels and also high blood pressure amongst other things. Once the lipoproteins are damaged they cause inflammatory reactions, which create havoc in our blood vessels. This is thought to start the underlying processes leading to cardiovascular disease. There are different lipoproteins doing different jobs, and some are more prone to damage than others, which is why people may be told they have a lot of “bad” cholesterol, and not enough of the “good” type.

So it’s a complex situation. It’s not just about how much cholesterol or lipoproteins are in the blood, but what type of lipoproteins, how long they are in the blood for, and what factors are present that could cause damage to the delicate lipoproteins.

A Word About Statins

There is no doubt these cholesterol-lowering drugs do significantly lower cholesterol, but this has only been shown to be beneficial for a small group of people in terms of reducing mortality, because cholesterol levels aren’t the root cause. And they have side effects too. Taking statins results in lower levels of CoQ10, which is incredibly important for energy production and healthy nerve function amongst other things. For this reason, anyone on statins should always talk to a nutritional therapist about taking a CoQ10 supplement as well.

Natural Ways to Reduce Cholesterol

There are other ways to reduce cholesterol naturally. Certain supplements, particularly vitamin B3 and red yeast rice that have been shown to be beneficial, but this needs to be done under the guidance of your nutritional therapist or doctor and must not be taken in combination with statins. However, the following suggestions are safe for everyone to use. They are aimed at both reducing the amount of cholesterol, and also preventing damage to the lipoproteins.

Eat a diet rich in fibre and antioxidants
Eating plenty of fruit and vegetables is the best thing you can do to increase both fibre and antioxidant intake. Fibre is crucial for reducing cholesterol, as it carries the bile out through your gut – and bile contains cholesterol. It is a very important part of reducing your levels, or preventing a rise in cholesterol. The antioxidants from fruit and veg reduce the likelihood of damage to the lipoproteins, so they are less likely to cause cardiovascular problems.

Build up to around 7-8 servings a day. Also include nuts and seeds, whole grains and legumes such as chickpeas, pinto beans, navy beans and kidney beans.

Reduce use of vegetable oil
Industrial vegetable and seed oils, such as sunflower oil, as well as their derivative products, like margarine, contain polyunsaturated fats. These are incorporated into lipoproteins and are highly prone to damage. Previous advice was to reduce saturated fats and use polyunsaturated oils instead, but this advice is incorrect. Some polyunsaturated fats are healthy, such as those found in oily fish, but it’s important to ditch the fake butter spreads and the sunflower oil. Use coconut oil for cooking as it’s very stable and not prone to damage like other oils (including olive oil). Good quality olive oil is fine, but use if for salad dressings, and cold meals only.

Protect your liver
A healthy liver is essential for regulating cholesterol levels, because the liver acts as a “packaging factory” for all the lipoproteins. A general pointer would be to make sure you don’t overdo the alcohol and high sugar foods, but also there are some foods that are particularly helpful for the liver. These include artichokes, chicory, chard, endives, cress, broccoli, cauliflower, Brussels sprouts, bok choy, cabbage, asparagus, rocket, lemon and grapefruit.

Exercise
Exercise is really important for reducing cholesterol. Although intense exercise has been shown to be particularly beneficial, just walking 10,000 steps a day is a good place to start. Get yourself a pedometer and start counting!

Reduce toxic overload
Start by stopping smoking. It not only contributes to higher toxic levels, but also increases blood pressure, another factor implicated in damage to lipoproteins and blood vessel walls. High levels of glucose in the blood, from a diet overloaded in refined sugar, can also cause damage to the lipoproteins. You don’t have to go completely sugar free, don’t worry! But do pay some attention to how often you eat sweets, cakes, biscuits or drink fizzy drinks. Just make sure you are keeping them in moderation. Also keep an eye on the hidden sugar crammed into processed foods, including savoury foods like ready meals and crisps. Use the free Sugar Smart app if you have access. It can be helpful for some people as a way of getting used to just how much sugar is packed into many processed foods.

Olivia 🙂

Sources and further information:
www.cholesterol-and-health.com,www.chriskresser.com/the-diet-heart-myth-cholesterol-and-saturated-fat

Categories
Fats and Protein General Health In the News

Healthy Fats

Hallelujah! The low-fat revolution finally seems to have come to an end. Although there are plenty of people who have been aware for a long time that low fat diets are not healthy, or even beneficial for weight loss, this has only been talked about in the media for the last few years.

Low-Fat Diets and Health

A scientific paper from 2010 reviewed previous studies which lead to the association between saturated fat and heart disease, and concluded that there is no evidence after all, Click on the link for the actual study if you are interested. AJCN Sat Fat and Heart Disease 

So does this mean we can all go nuts with the butter? Well no, excessive intake of any type of food – including fats – is unwise. But it is vital that we all are aware that extreme, low fat diets are unhealthy. For many years in my teens and early 20s I was sucked into the low-fat myth and felt miserable most of the time I was on them (tired, dry skin, headaches, moody and quite frankly a bit of a pain in the arse to be around). I really didn’t manage to lose much weight either.

However, before you tuck into that greasy doughnut, it’s important to understand that not all fats are created equal and the trick is knowing which ones to go for the majority of the time. Also to realise that the odd treat is not going to kill you. So here is some science for you.

Different Types of Fats

Fats and oils are really one and the same thing, but “fats” is a term used to describe those that are solid at room temperature and “oils” tends to be used for fats that are liquid at room temperature. In addition, they can be broken down into categories depending on the degree of “saturation” – a chemical term used to describe the fundamental structure.

Most sources of fat in the diet have a combination of both saturated and unsaturated fatty acids, but usually one predominates. Solid fats are usually comprised of mostly saturated fats. They are more stable and less easy to damage. Oils are predominantly unsaturated fats (both mono and poly- unsaturated) and are much more unstable.

The degree to which a fat is damaged or spoiled is very important, as damaged fats can create havoc in the body. The quickest way to cause damage to oils is via heat, air and light. Before we get into the different types of fats in the diet, let’s firstly look at the important roles they play in the body.

  • Cell structure and function
  • Absorption of fat soluble vitamins
  • Nerve function
  • Maintaining healthy skin and hair
  • Brain health
  • Insulating body organs against shock
  • Energy source
  • Maintaining body temperature
  • Adds to flavour and texture of food
  • Makes meals more satisfying and filling

Saturated Fats

The main sources of saturated fats are meat, dairy, eggs, coconut oil and palm oil. Small amounts of saturated fat can be part of a healthy diet, and contribute to the health benefits listed above. Coconut oil is excellent for cooking and frying. Unlike olive oil, it’s very stable and isn’t damaged when heated at high temperatures, so for this reason is preferable to use in cooking. You can find coconut oil in whole food shops and supermarkets, but don’t go for the cheap stuff, it really isn’t good quality and is full of rancid fats. I’d advise getting organic, extra virgin coconut oil that is usually at least £6 per jar.

In terms of dairy, go for good quality, full fat, organic produce. When buying meat, look for organic, free range meat from grass fed, rather than grain fed, animals. This is not only due to ethical reasons, but also because this meat will contain higher levels of nutrients, in particular omega-3 fatty acids, which as you will see below is a good thing. As organic meat really can be more expensive, have it less often, and increase other sources of protein, such as eggs.

Monounsaturated Fats

Monounsaturated fats and polyunsaturated fats are two types of unsaturated fatty acids. They are derived from vegetables and plants. Monounsaturated fats are liquid at room temperature but begin to solidify at cold temperatures. This type of fat can be found in olives and olive oil, canola oil, flaxseed oil, sesame oil, walnut and hemp oil, sunflower oil and also avocados and all nuts and seeds. It’s important not to heat them to high temperatures (such as frying), and to keep bottles sealed in cool, dark places. Go for oils that are cold pressed, extra virgin and kept in dark bottles. Use monounsaturated fats in moderation, and either only use them cold, or add at the very end of cooking, in order to lessen any damage to the oils.

Polyunsaturated Fats – Omega 3 and 6

Whilst the body is able to make saturated and mono-unsaturated fats, there are some fatty acids that are essential – meaning they cannot be produced in the body and therefore need to be obtained from our diet. These essential fats are omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids. They support many aspects of our health, including blood pressure, brain function and lowering inflammation. These health benefits are derived from the balance between the two fatty acids.

Originally it is thought our ancestors consumed a diet that was almost equal in terms of omega-3 and 6 intakes. Nowadays, we eat a diet that is extremely high in omega-6 fatty acids and low in omega-3. The ratio is thought to be somewhere around 20 to one, in favour of omega-6. In part this is due to the move away from saturated fats to “healthy” vegetable and seed oils such as sunflower oil, which is one of the main sources of omega-6 fatty acids. This skewing towards the omega-6 pathway leads to inflammatory responses, poor blood sugar control, and cardiovascular disease.

What keeps the effects of the omega-6 pathway under control? Omega-3 fatty acids. This is why increasing our intake of omega-3 and reducing our intake of omega-6 is one of the best things we can do for our health. By far the best source of omega-3 are oily fish (salmon, mackerel, herring, sardines and anchovies), ground flax seed, chia seeds, walnuts and eggs also contain omega-3, but not in nearly such large quantities. Three portions of oily fish a week is an excellent addition to the diet.

A Word About Trans Fats

Trans fats are actually a form of unsaturated fat that have been heated to high temperatures to keep them more stable and extend their shelf life. You’ll find them in margarine and butter spreads, biscuits, cakes, fried foods and takeaways. The problem is, they are unnatural to the body, and not easily broken down. They become incorporated into the cell structure and can be extremely damaging, having clear links to cardiovascular disease, diabetes and immune dysfunction. The tide is turning against trans fats. Even the World Health Organisation declared them toxic but despite a number of European countries banning their use altogether, and various regulatory bodies in the U.K recommending we do the same, the government is lagging behind. Some supermarkets, such as M & S, Waitrose and the Co-op, declare all their own brands to be trans fat free, but I’d still be on the safe side an avoid the most obvious culprits such as low-fat butter spreads and margarine. Just go for good quality butter!