Lowering High Cholesterol: Good Fats, Bad Fats

When doctors discuss lowering high cholesterol, a major topic is a heart healthy diet. Patients need to concentrate on eliminating the bad fats, and understanding good fats.

How confusing! The average person is not a dietician. Although food labels are supposedly chocked full of the necessary information, deciphering the nutritional values, and understanding the good from the bad, can be totally frustrating. For example, what is the difference between good and bad fats?

Essentially, good fats increase high-density lipoproteins (HDL), which help lower high cholesterol. Conversely, low-density lipoproteins (LDL) affect the increase of high cholesterol. Even simplified, the answer is still confusing.

Previously, low fat diets have suggested eliminating fats altogether. Now, medical science has discovered the need for good fats. Why are good fats necessary?

When an individual suffers from high cholesterol, bad fat content in the blood stream is slowly forming plaque on the artery walls. As the plaque builds, less blood is allowed to the heart. Deprived, the heart will eventually cease to function properly. Blood flow to the brain is also slowed, or stopped by a blood clot.

Now, an individual is likely to suffer a debilitating heart attack, stroke, or sudden death. Before disaster strikes, enter the good fats.

The body actually needs the good fats, as well as some cholesterol. First, what is cholesterol?

"Cholesterol is a wax-like substance. The liver makes it and links it to carrier proteins called lipoproteins that let it dissolve in blood and be transported to all parts of the body.

Why? Cholesterol plays essential roles in the formation of cell membranes, some hormones, and vitamin D" (Fats & Cholesterol). So, humans need cholesterol. Problems develop, if cholesterol builds, and the liver is still producing natural cholesterol. Now, the good fats take action to absorb the bad fats and help eliminate the problem, before the bad fats can turn into plaque on the artery walls.

Over time, the good fats will also help wear away, and carry off the buildup of plaque. Thus, people needing to control rising cholesterol levels, or lose the unwanted pounds, are encouraged to replace bad fats like trans saturated fats with good fats, unsaturated fats--polyunsaturated and monounsaturated. The question remains: exactly what are the good fats?

Unsaturated fats are found in products derived from plant sources, such as vegetable oils, nuts, and seeds. There are two main categories: polyunsaturated fats (which are found in high concentrations in sunflower, corn, and soybean oils) and monounsaturated fats (which are found in high concentrations in canola, peanut, and olive oils).

In studies in which polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fats were eaten in place of carbohydrates, these good fats decreased LDL levels and increased HDL levels (Fats & Cholesterol).

Thus, the best advice: read the label! Although grocery shopping is generally not the favorite weekly chore, and most people want to rush through and get the job done, reading the labels can truly become a life-saving practice.

The extra time may help consumers have a longer lifespan, which means extra time to enjoy family, friends, hobbies, etc. Eventually, individuals will recognize the foods worth eating, and not have to peruse the labels so diligently. However, below are some general guidelines to consider, when learning to replace the bad fats with the good:

Tips for lowering trans fat intake:

* Choose liquid vegetable oils, or choose a soft tub margarine that contains little or no trans fats.

* Reduce intake of commercially prepared baked goods, snack foods, and processed foods, including fast foods. To be on the safe side, assume that all such products contain trans fats unless they are labeled otherwise.

* When foods containing partially hydrogenated oils can't be avoided, choose products that list the partially hydrogenated oils near the end of the ingredient list.

*To avoid trans fats in restaurants, one strategy is to avoid deep-fried foods, since many restaurants continue to use partially hydrogenated oils in their fryers. You may be able to help change this cooking practice by asking your server, the chef, or manager if the establishment uses trans-free oils (Fats & Cholesterol).

Unfortunately, many foods people are accustomed to eating are actually bad for cholesterol levels. For instance, red meats are notorious for containing high levels of bad fat; ice cream is taboo. Chocolate is also on the bad list.

However, most people can occasionally indulge in a bad fat, rarely and in strict moderation, unless a doctor feels the problem is too severe, then never means never. A bite of chocolate or a bowl of ice cream is not worth dying prematurely.

In summary, lowering high cholesterol levels is essential to good cardiovascular health. In addition, knowing the difference between good and bad fats can help prevent blockage of the arteries, and increase the development of good (HDL) cholesterol, and reduce the risk of heart attacks and strokes associated with bad cholesterol (LDL). Taking the time to become educated in the consumption of good fats, can result in more time to appreciate life and loved ones.