Cholesterol, is it “Good” or “Bad” for Health?

Cholesterol, is it “Good” or “Bad” for Health?

 
Tired from work and quite hungry on her way home, Candy stops at a nearby food chain to get a burger and a can of soft drinks.  Inside the bus, she starts eating and says to herself it will suffice for her dinner.  She’s too tired to take her supper anyway, so she’d rather sleep when she arrives home. 

Sounds familiar? The busy world of today sometimes pushes people to take unhealthy food alternatives instead of nutritious meals. Foods from fast food chains often offer a quick fill-in for hungry stomachs but they are often not healthy. It is no surprise that hypercholesterolemia is prevalent among Filipinos.

A 2008 FNRI study on cholesterol levels among Filipinos showed that 31.4 percent of Filipino adults 20 years old and over had “borderline high to high cholesterol levels.” Of these, 10.2 percent had confirmed high cholesterol levels of more than 240 mg/dL, while 21.2 percent were borderline at 200 mg/dL to 239 mg/dL.

Moreover, results showed that respondents aged 50 to 59 years old had the highest cholesterol levels at 48 percent while 15 percent of respondents 20 to 29 years old had borderline high to high cholesterol levels.  Simply put, the risk of having elevated cholesterol levels increased with age.

This incidence, called hypercholesterolemia, is more common among women.

[pq]Hypercholesterolemia, is a condition when the level of total cholesterol in the blood becomes abnormally high at 240 mg/dL or higher.[/pq]

 
 
A total cholesterol of below 200 mg/dL and high density lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol of more than or equal to 60 mg/dL are considered desirable.  In contrast, low HDL cholesterol levels lower than 40 mg/dL may result in a greater risk to heart disease.  In general, low density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol is considered high if it is more than 160 mg/dL. On the other hand, the desirable level of LDL depends on the presence or absence of heart disease and other risk factors.

What then is cholesterol? Cholesterol is a substance found among the fats (lipids) in the bloodstream and in all cells of the body.  It is normal to have cholesterol.  It is used for tissue formation, metabolism and hormone production.  It is, therefore, essential for the normal function of the body.  The body gets cholesterol by producing some of it.  The rest comes from diet particularly from animal products such as meats, poultry, eggs, butter, cheese and whole milk.

cIn order for cholesterol to be transported in the blood, the molecule has to attach itself to a lipoprotein molecule. HDL cholesterol is carried away from tissues to the liver to be metabolized and eliminated.  LDL, on the other hand, is carried to the tissues where it may be deposited and stored.  Too much LDL cholesterol can predispose to clogging of the arteries.  If the blood flow to the heart muscle is blocked, a heart attack can occur. If the blood flow to certain parts of the brain is affected, on the other hand, a stroke results.

What foods are cholesterol-rich and how does a person limit consumption? Cholesterol is only found in animal foods. Food from plants are said to be almost entirely cholesterol-free.  Foods which have high cholesterol content include: organ meats (like liver, kidney and brain) as well as shellfishes (such as crabs, lobsters, oysters, shrimps and clams).

Cheese, eggs, lard and other animal fats are likewise rich in cholesterol. If a person has his blood tested and finds that he has high blood cholesterol level, limiting his intake of cholesterol-rich foods alone, however, will not guarantee lowering his blood cholesterol.  High blood cholesterol level is related to a number of factors like heredity, being overweight and inactive and having too much saturated fat in the diet.

Saturated fat intake has much greater influence on blood cholesterol levels than cholesterol intake. Saturated fats are found in animal foods such as butter, fatty meats and poultry, whole milk, cheese and cream, as well as lard and saturated oils.  The main dietary modification therefore to lower serum cholesterol level, is to limit the intake of saturated fat in the diet.  Fat in meats and chicken are likewise rich in saturated fats.

FNRI Cholesterol Statistics

FNRI Cholesterol Statistics

How can a person limit the intake of cholesterol and saturated fats while eating animal products?  The following are some suggestions:

• Eat fish more often than meat or poultry;
• Limit the intake of egg yolk to two to three times a week;
• Remove skin of poultry.  Trim fat from meat and poultry;
• Occasionally replace animal foods with dried beans, peas and legumes;
• Increase intake of fruits and vegetables to five servings a day;
• Roast meat on a rack to allow meat fat to drip out during cooking and,
• Read labels to select foods lower in cholesterol and saturated fat.

So, the next time you pass by a food chain or any convenience store, think twice before you order and feast on your favorite burgers and fries. Remember that what you take in your body will take its toll on your health and well-being.  Eat healthy and enjoy a longer life.

For more information on food and nutrition, contact:  Dr. Mario V. Capanzana, Director, Food and Nutrition Research Institute, Department of Science and Technology, General Santos Avenue, Bicutan, Taguig City; Tel/Fax Num:  8372934 and 8373164; email: mvc@fnri.dost.gov.ph, mar_v_c@yahoo.com; FNRI-DOST website: http://www.fnri.dost.gov.ph.; FNRI Facebook page: facebook.com/FNRI-DOST; FNRI Twitter account: twitter.com/FNRI-DOST

 

 – Ma. Susana O. Encarnacion

 

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