Hypercholesterolemia: nutrition and prevention

Causes of hypercholesterolemia

Hypercholesterolemia: Processed Foods and Cholesterol
Fig. 1 – Processed Foods and Cholesterol

Hypercholesterolemia can be caused by many factors which can be present separately but often together.
What are they?

  • A greater quantity of cholesterol taken by the diet.
  • A greater taking of particular fats which cause the raise of endogenous production of cholesterol (very important).
  • Overweight.
  • Genetic causes.

Hypercholesterolemia and dietary cholesterol

To reduce the taking of it we advise to reduce the use of products of animal provenance. Use semi-skimmed or skimmed milk, light cheese (ricotta – kind of cottage cheese – or light cheese in flakes), light yogurt, lean meat and moderate the taking of eggs (but if you eliminate the yolk you set at zero the content of cholesterol).
Pay attention: on the market you can find many products which don’t contain cholesterol. This is right, but we must pay attention to the content and the kind of fat that the product contains, because more than l’80% our cholesterol is produced within us by excessive fats, carbohydrates and proteins, too.
Fats which can raise the endogenous production of cholesterol are saturated fatty acids and trans fatty acids.

Hypercholesterolemia and saturated fatty acids

They are present in meat and milk, but also in abundance in vegetal oils as palm, palm seeds and coconut one.
What to do:

  • it’s possible eliminate the visible fat of meat or buy lean cuts;
  • replace whole milk, butter, fat cheese, creams, ice-creams for products which contain less fat as low-fat yogurt (1,9 gr fats per 100 gr product), semi-skimmed or skimmed milk, ricotta – kind of cottage cheese, light cheese in flakes, and eliminate or reduce the taking of the first ones.

Vegetal fats are much used in the confectionery industry to prepare for example fried products (when you read among the ingredients “vegetal oil” it’s never extravergin olive oil).

Hypercholesterolemia and trans fats

Trans fats or trans fatty acids are an extremely risky factor not only for hypercholesterolemia. Studies have observed a good atherogenic capability caused by changes in plasmatic lipoproteins where we see a decrease of HDL (acronym of High Density Lipoprotein) levels, good cholesterol, and an increase of LDL (acronym of Low Density Lipoprotein), bad cholesterol, and triglycerides levels. The problem about public welfare is not negligible, the experts of FAO/WHO have underlined; in fact Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has suggested to write the content on the labels.

Where do they find themselves?
Everywhere:

  • in a lot of foods for children,
  • in baked industrial products as crackers, breadsticks, cakes, packed bread, and all snacks that young people love for their “surprises” and that mums love because they are practical and because they can “save their time”;
  • in a lot of industrial foods as soups, ready fresh or frozen meals, dough and mixtures to prepare pies and pizza;
  • in soup cubes;
  • in soft candies;
  • in some corn flakes;
  • in ice creams, in vegetal substitutes of cream and in margarine;
  • in a lot of preserves, jams included.

Pay attention: as regards to the content of saturated and trans fatty acids there is often no difference between classic products and “natural” or “organic” ones.

What can we do?
To avoid to buy products that contain vegetal fats and/or hydrogenated fatty acids. Generally speaking, the more a cake is tasty the more the probability is that it contains a high concentration of trans fatty acids. However you have to read the composition of food.
To avoid to buy fried products.

Why they use them?
Products which contain partially hydrogenated fats don’t go rancid even after long periods. That is a huge advantage to whom must transport the product from a continent to another one and maybe the conservation conditions are not very good. For that reason partially hydrogenated fats and so trans ones are added in products that don’t need them, too, as ice creams and peanut butter.

To conclude: pay attention to advertising campaigns which pass off every kind of vegetal fat as wealthy.

Hypercholesterolemia and overweight

Putting on weight in a significant way contributes to hypercholesterolemi. In a lot of people the decrease of satured and trans fatty acids and of food cholesterol doesn’t reduce the cholesterolemia levels till weight begins to lose.
What to do to control weight:
to reduce animal fats (meat and milk);
to reduce foods rich in simple sugars as sweets, soft drinks, desserts, candies and cakes;
do not win back calories you have eliminated in the preceding points by an excessive use of extravergin olive oil and starch (pasta, potatoes, rice, bread);
to increase the physical activity-aerobics is the best (it doesn’t make you out of breath);
to increase the eating of fruit and vegetables; your meals must be very coloured and that is full of different fruits and vegetables.

Hypercholesterolemia and genetic causes

It needs a pharmacological prescription by your doctor which must be however combined with right nutritional advices.

Finally it’s absolutely unadvisable to smoke.

References

Mahan L.K., Escott-Stump S.: “Krause’s foods, nutrition, and diet therapy” 10th ed. 2000

Shils M.E., Olson J.A., Shike M., Ross A.C.: “Modern nutrition in health and disease” 9th ed., by Lippincott, Williams & Wilkins, 1999

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