Understanding the good and the bad isn’t as hard as you think.
By Dan Bernardot, PHD, LD, FACSM
Before you changed your outlook on fitness, you might have had no problems consuming a large bag of potato chips or super-sizing your combo at McDonald’s or Burger King—but what you don’t see can actually hurt you. What Reps! is referring to is cholesterol. Cholesterol—both good and bad—is talked about a lot, but few people really understand what it does, where it comes from and what they should be concerned about. Let’s try to clarify some of these issues by taking a closer look at the facts on cholesterol.
What is it?
Cholesterol is made by most body cells, part of all cell membranes and 50 percent of bile, and is transported in the blood by carriers known as lipoproteins. Too many of these cholesterol-containing blood lipoproteins can result in hardening of the arteries, which can lead to heart attack, stroke and poor circulation in the eyes, fingers and feet. Some cholesterol-containing blood lipoproteins are worse at creating these problems than others: Low-density lipoprotein (LDL), or “bad” cholesterol, can lead to heart disease faster than high-density lipoprotein (HDL), or “good” cholesterol, which is more benign. It’s good to have low total cholesterol (<200 mg/dl), but it’s also good to have low LDL (<100 mg/dl) and a high HDL-to-LDL ratio. So, the question is this: How do you get there?
E-Z Eating Strategy #1: Eat Less
One strategy is to eat less cholesterol, which requires a dramatic reduction in foods of animal origin.
E-Z Eating Strategy #2: Consume Less Fat
A more effective strategy is to cause the body to make less cholesterol by lowering your total fat intake. This strategy is much more useful because when you eat less saturated fat, your body doesn’t have to make as much bile to emulsify the consumed fat. Bile is 50 percent cholesterol, and it shows up in the blood with the fat you eat. If you eat less fat, you don’t need as much bile and your total body pool of cholesterol drops.
E-Z Ways to Reduce Your Fat Intake
The basic rules for reducing your total fat intake are as follows.
- Eat less visible fat.
- Eat low(Can’t Live Without Your) Love and Affection fat dairy products.
- Eat fewer processed meats, such as salami, bologna and bacon.
- Eat less animal protein.
- Eat fewer fried foods.
Making these five changes to your diet is guaranteed to improve your blood cholesterol levels—unless your genetic makeup mandates a higher level. Surprisingly enough, low-fat, high-cholesterol foods aren’t as bad for you as high-fat, high-cholesterol foods, which are heart disease in the making. Your goal of having less than 300 milligrams of cholesterol each day may be difficult to achieve, but your goal of consuming foods that don’t significantly raise your blood cholesterol is much easier to accomplish by following these five basic rules.
Crunching Cholesterol’s Numbers:
Food / Cholesterol content (mg) per serving / Total fat content (g) per serving / Saturated fat content (g) per serving / Likely heart disease potential
Chicken breast (1/2 breast), broiled / 72 / 3 / 0.8 / Neutral
Chicken breast (1/2 breast), fried / 78 / 4/ 1.1 / High
Cottage cheese (1 cup), low-fat / 31 / 2 / 1.5 / Neutral
Cottage cheese (1 cup), regular / 166 / 10 / 6 / Very high
Shrimp (3 oz), boiled / 125 / 1 / 0.2 / Neutral
Shrimp (3 oz), breaded or fried / 165 / 13 / 2.8 / Very high
Salad dressing (1 tbsp), lemon juice / 0 / 0 / 0 / Low
Salad dressing (1 tbsp), French / 9 / 6.5 / 1.5 / High
Egg (1 whole), hard-boiled / 210 / 5.3 / 1.5 / Neutral
Egg (1 whole), fried / 212 / 7.0 / 1.9 / High
Egg white (2 oz), cooked / 0 / 0.1 / 0 / Low
Note: The goal of consuming an average of less than 300 milligrams of cholesterol each day remains important, but reducing your fat intake—especially saturated fat—is even more important.