Cholesterol has many functions:
* It is an essential part of every cell in your body.
* It helps to produce certain hormones, such as estrogen.
* It is a vital part of your nervous system and brain.
* Through sunlight, it is converted to vitamin D in your skin.
* It helps in the digestion and absorption of fat.
While your body makes its own cholesterol, there is also cholesterol in the food we eat. Dietary cholesterol (the cholesterol in food) is found only in animal foods, such as cheese, meat, butter and eggs. Plant foods grains, fruits, vegetables, nuts do not contain cholesterol. Unlike fat, cholesterol does not contain any calories, nor is it a source of energy.
About one-third of Americans is sensitive to dietary cholesterol, meaning that eating foods high in cholesterol raises cholesterol levels in the blood. Currently there is no test to determine if you are the sensitive type, therefore, health experts recommend everyone choose a diet that contains no more than 300 milligrams of cholesterol each day.
The easiest way to control dietary cholesterol is to learn which foods are high sources. The most concentrated sources of dietary cholesterol are organ meats, such as liver, brain and kidney, egg yolks and some high-fat dairy products, such as sour cream. (The table beginning on page 225 lists the cholesterol content of some familiar foods.) Compare the different foods so you will be able to choose wisely.
WHAT'S YOUR CHOLESTEROL NUMBER?
Measuring blood to determine the amount of cholesterol in it helps screen people for their risk for heart disease. For some people, however, just knowing total blood cholesterol may not be enough finding out about LDL and HDL levels is also necessary. (See Fat Facts: The Skinny of HDLs and LDLs.) This is especially true for people whose total blood cholesterol is considered borderline-high (above 200 milligrams per deciliter of blood) and high (above 240 milligrams).
Physicians often will obtain LDL and HDL readings for nearly all their patients. A blood profile can determine the levels of LDLs and HDLs. This type of analysis may be advisable for people with borderline-high cholesterol levels plus two risk factors for heart disease (see table below).
RISK FACTORS FOR CORONARY HEART DISEASE (CHD)
High blood cholesterol
High blood pressure
Family history of coronary heart disease before the age of 55
Some physicians may calculate a ratio between HDL and total cholesterol. This is another approach to determining heart disease risk. However, the American Heart Association recommends focusing on absolute numbers for total blood cholesterol and HDL cholesterol levels.
A direct relationship exists between total blood cholesterol and LDL cholesterol, meaning as total blood cholesterol increases, so does LDL cholesterol. Three known causes of a high LDL and blood cholesterol level are:
* Genetic factors and family history
* A diet high in saturated fats and cholesterol
* Health conditions, such as diabetes, diseases of the liver and kidney or an underactive thyroid.
Just as heart disease risk increases with a high LDL and total blood cholesterol level, a low level of HDLs may indicate an increased risk for heart disease even if your total cholesterol is below 200 mg/dl. Some possible causes include lack of exercise, obesity, smoking and high blood cholesterol and/or triglycerides (another type of fat in the blood).
More than 50 percent of all adult Americans have blood cholesterol levels higher than 200 mg/dl, the "desirable" level half of these people have levels above 240 mg/dl. Their risk for heart disease is double that of people whose cholesterol is below 200 mg/dl.
WHAT DO THE NUMBERS MEAN?
Cholesterol (mg/dl) Classification
Total less than 200 Desirable
Total 200 to 239 Borderline-High Risk
Total above 239 High Risk
LDL less than 130 Desirable
LDL 130 to 159 Borderline-High Risk
LDL above 159 High Risk
HDL above 35 Desireable
Source: National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute's National Cholesterol Education Program (NCEP).
CHOLESTEROL TRIMMING TIPS
OPT FOR A MEATLESS MEAL AT LEAST TWICE EACH WEEK. Since all meats and meat products contain cholesterol, a meatless meal is an easy way to keep your dietary cholesterol in check.
BE SEAFOOD SAVVY. Shellfish vary in their cholesterol content. Shrimp for example are very high in cholesterol, while scallops and mussels are quite low. All shellfish are low in total fat and saturated fat, which means that you can still eat them as part of a low-fat, low-cholesterol diet. Just make sure that you stay within you daily cholesterol limits.
LIMIT ORGAN MEATS such as liver, brain and kidney. These meats are extremely high in cholesterol and should be eaten sparingly. Instead choose lean cuts of meats.
LIMIT EGGS TO FOUR PER WEEK. The 210 milligrams of cholesterol in one egg yoke supplies more than two-thirds the recommended daily limit. The good news is that egg whites have no cholesterol, and in many chases can be used instead of whole eggs. For example, try an omelet made with one whole egg and two egg whites or use 1/4 cup fat-free cholesterol-free egg product.
CHOOSE FAT-FREE OR LOW-FAT DAIRY PRODUCTS. Dairy products can be cholesterol culprits. Choose a cup of fat-free (skim) milk instead of whole milk and save 30 milligrams of cholesterol. Replace a 1/2 cup of sour cream with a 1/2 cup of low-fat yogurt and cut your dietary cholesterol by 70 milligrams.
From "Betty Crocker's Low-Fat, Low-Cholesterol Cooking Today." Text Copyright 2005 General Mills, Inc. Used with permission of the publisher, Wiley Publishing, Inc. All Rights Reserved.
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