The Sunday Telegraph (Sydney) - Body and Soul - - NUTRITION -

In the past, high blood choles­terol sent health­care pro­fes­sion­als into a panic and an im­me­di­ate rec­om­men­da­tion of a low-fat diet of­ten fol­lowed. This is prob­a­bly not the right path­way for you as the is­sue is more com­plex. There are many fac­tors that may af­fect your heart dis­ease, in­clud­ing genes, age, weight and diet. The topic of high choles­terol is con­tro­ver­sial and you’ll find dif­fer­ing opin­ions on di­etary strate­gies even be­tween doc­tors and di­eti­tians, be­cause el­e­vated to­tal choles­terol alone doesn’t in­stantly in­crease the risk of heart dis­ease.

First of all, you need this waxy fat. Choles­terol is a cru­cial build­ing block in cell mem­branes and is also used to make vi­ta­min D, hor­mones (in­clud­ing testos­terone and oe­stro­gen) and fat-dis­solv­ing bile acids. Too much choles­terol can be prob­lem­atic, how­ever, and may build up in the ar­ter­ies, lead­ing to ath­er­o­scle­ro­sis (plaque that may block the flow of blood). When we talk about choles­terol, there are four dif­fer­ent mea­sure­ments – to­tal choles­terol; low den­sity lipopro­teins ( LDL); high den­sity lipopro­teins ( HDL) and triglyc­erides (TGs). While your to­tal choles­terol num­ber is im­por­tant, the other num­bers can tell us a lot. For in­stance, it’s bet­ter to have a raised HDL level and a low­ered LDL level, as HDL ac­tu­ally helps your body, while LDL of­ten be­comes plaque in the ar­ter­ies. A high TG num­ber of­ten means you’re eat­ing too many calo­ries from things like re­fined high-car­bo­hy­drate foods and al­co­hol, which are con­verted into triglyc­erides.

Rather than fol­low­ing a low-fat diet – which is of­ten high in car­bo­hy­drates from sug­ars, re­fined grains and other starches – it is bet­ter to know which fats are healthy so you know which fats to avoid.

Healthy fats, such as olive oil, avo­cado, oily fish, nuts and seeds, may help el­e­vate HDL. On the other hand, fats found in pro­cessed foods such as cakes, sweet bis­cuits, pas­tries, pies and man­u­fac­tured meats may con­tain the ‘trans fats’ that are strongly associated with heart dis­ease, as trans fats both el­e­vate LDL and lower HDL lev­els.

When it comes to meat, in­clude lean cuts as well as chicken and fish, as rec­om­mended by the Aus­tralian Di­etary Guidelines (eat­forhealth.gov.au). And while full-fat dairy prod­ucts will add more sat­u­rated fat to your diet, the main source is pro­cessed, re­fined dis­cre­tionary foods. If you’re a big dairy con­sumer, try re­duced-fat op­tions to lower the amount of sat­u­rated fat you’re get­ting.

The bot­tom line is to main­tain a healthy weight with a diet rich in good fats, whole grains, fresh fruit and veg­eta­bles, and to min­imise pro­cessed foods.

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