Coronary Disease, Cholesterol And Your Diet

Cholesterol is a soft, white, wax-like substance found in the body called a lipid. An overwhelming majorities of medical specialists single out Cholesterol as the single most important factor in coronary or heart disease because these lipids help to block vital passageways to the heart. There are, however, a minority of specialist who either flatly disagree or list other factors that should be considered. There are also some paradoxes in the world that lead one to wonder about the role of “bad fatty foods" in the production of heart disease.

In this article we are not trying to show any one point of view or take a side. Instead we are pointing out the various points of view.

Cholesterol comes from many different sources. You body makes some naturally. You get a major dose from eat animal based products such as meat, some fish, cheese, eggs and whole milk. Cigarette smoking also seems to produce more cholesterol in the body.

Lipids are the internal part or seed of the main cholesterol complex molecule. This part is not water soluble, thus it is a particle that remains intact in the bloodstream. The remainder of the cholesterol molecule is a water soluble protein. The whole package is called a lipoprotein and it comes in two varieties: High density lipoproteins (HDL) which are those naturally made by the body and are used to help make the cells waterproof and low density lipoproteins (LDL) which are the one’s many heart specialists worry about.

The LDL cholesterol is largely associated with fat and meats. Your bloodstream attempts to carry this large molecule to the liver where it is converted, the fat being stored away for sugar production or flushed from the body. Then the liver creates the HDL cholesterol used by your body for protection from the elements. The worry is all about the LDL cholesterol sticking to blood passageways, especially those leading up to your heart.

The HDL molecule has been shown to help clear out the LDL clogged areas, but the amount of HDL to LDL is generally much lower than is required to totally keep the system clear, thus medical experts are now totting “good fats" as a means of clearing out the “bad fats" in the body. Good fats come from some vegetables such as nuts and olives.

Eating foods with high “flavanol" content is also considered to be effective in reducing the risks associated with both clogged blood passageways and those passages that become hardened with age.

The big controversies surrounding heart disease and cholesterol have to do with being over weight and eating meats. Also there is a major concern with high levels of cholesterol in a person. These factors make up the rift between many in the medical community. For example there is a published paper indicating that high LDL levels may help fight infectious diseases. In that same paper it also notes that high LDL levels do not promote heart disease in all groups of people. It is mostly men between the ages of 30 and 50 in countries like America, while women and other nationalities don’t exhibit the same amount of coronary problems associated with high LDL levels.

A while ago there was a TV magazine reporting on the consumption of alcohol, especially red wine, and the lowered risk of heart disease. In that report they showed foreign countries in which butter, milk and fatty meats were consumed, often producing some obese people, yet the incident of coronary disease was far below that of those in America. One factor made guilty by association was the fact that they consumed large quantities of alcoholic beverages, often a red wine.

Red wine is one of those high “flavanol" foods. So is dark cocoa, which we reported about in a past Issues. Nuts and peanut butter is also somewhat high in flavonal, as are apples. This is not enough evidence to indicate that you should get drunk, eat Reeses Peanutbutter cups (these use light chocolate with less flavanol and are less effective than just eating some Skippy or Jiff for the total calorie and sugar content) along with some apples, but many medical experts are now saying that two drinks of alcohol a day could have some benefits in reducing the risk of heart disease.

Alcohol produces a super sugar which is not good for the liver, skin or arteries. So the sugar in candies is also not that great for you and while apples do contain some sugars it is a more natural sugar that requires less processing by the body and is not as harmful to the body cells as is the sugar from wine, beer, liquor and candy.

Another culturally related factor that has been looked at by the media and science is that many other people do not eat three big meals a day. The have a modest meal at the start of the day and a larger meal the end of the day, which some snacking in-between.

Reducing cholesterol via the diet as a means of making a better “heart" is also disputed by some experts, such as Dr. Uffe Ravnskov, MD, PhD who states that evidence exists to show that such reduction methods can actually increase cholesterol in some people.

Everyone clearly agrees that the type of foods you eat definitely have an impact on cholesterol in the bloodstream. According to the listing by the Harvard University School of Medicine trans fats are suspect to being the worst offender and one of the biggest suppliers of this includes margerine which was once considered a heart-healthy alternative to butter. Hardened stick margarine is the worst of this variety. Also on the trans fat list are baked goods, fried foods, common vegetable oils and shortening. Trans fats raise only the LDL levels. One the other hand fish, cooking oils make from peanuts, canola or olives (and to a lesser degree corn and safflower oil), nuts in generals (most specifically cashews and almonds) reduced LDL while raising the HDL levels.

HDL as you will remember (and most experts also agree on this point) helps to remove LDL blockages in the arteries.

If one reads the actual published information you quickly see that high cholesterol and HDL alone does not a bad heart make. The minority voice is point to other factors that help to contribute to the problem or coronary disease, such as being over weight, not exercising enough and stress or hypertension.

Some doctors are pushing cholesterol removing drugs, but some experts point to findings that some of these drugs are associated with some unhealthy side effects, including a higher incident of cancer.

The reduction of cholesterol (to under a level of 240 mg per day) or weight is not the key ingredient, based on what some people are saying in scientific circles. It’s a matter of a more balanced lifestyle that puts one at a lesser risk.

Some things are clear. An apple or two a day might keep the doctor away. This sugar based natural substance has high flavanol content which is good for the coronary system. A peanut butter sandwich a day is also probably not a bad idea, so Disney alumni Annette Funicello was being a pretty good mom when she did those Skippy endorsements. Switching to olive or peanut oil for salads and cooking is certainly a good, but expensive idea. Having dry roasted cashews or almonds around as a snack (with some sliced apple) seems like it won’t kill you either.

Wine, beer and liquor now and then could be a good thing, but the amount of super sugars produced may have an eventual impact on the skin and liver. The French, Italians and Greeks consume a fair amount of alcoholic beverages while eating butters, pasta, whole cream, lamb, pork, beef and other foods American dietary people consider to be “bad" for you. The French also cook witha lot of wine! As a whole, it seems that these cultures exhibit less coronary heart problems than do Americans. To be fair they also exhibit more obesity at times and verge on substance abuse levels of intoxicating beverages. This make alcohol iffy as a heart-healthy substance considering the other ills that it could generate, but the American taboos on underage drinking and the push for sodas instead of wine or beer with meals may play a factor as to why American’s have more heart attacks than do other cultures.

It is also noted by some that there is no strong evidence to show that a vegetarian diet will prevent heart disease or make you live longer and these people consume no HDL from animal products, yet some do get coronary disease and also die from heart attacks at a younger age, just like meat eaters. If there was compelling evidence that not eating any meat made you live 20 years longer and have clean arteries it would make front page news so it simply is not turning out to be this way!

Based upon the evidence it is clear that everyone out there should:

Cook and select food products with minimal amounts of trans fat, such as found packaged and fast foods.

Remove hardened margarine from your diet.

Add apples, peanut butter, olive oil and dry roasted nuts to your diet.

Add veggies higher in niacin.

Limit beef and pork portions as well as cooking them in a manner to reduce the fat content.

Add more broiled or poached fish to your diet.

Replaced red meats with white, skinless, broiled chicken more frequently.

Eat oat based grain products more often then wheat based products.

Stop smoking if you can.

Reduce your total diet to a range of 2,100 or less calories per day.

Walk and exercise a little each day.

Don’t fear a drink or two of wine, beer or liquor now and then, even when it comes to children, as they may eventually develop serious coronary disease as they grow older and alcohol is associated with clearing arteries to a degree. Making this a habit, however, may replace the coronary illness problems with other problems such as yellowing skin, liver and other organ problems so don't make drinking a habit or do more than a few in one day.

Try and reduce your overall sugar and carbohydrate consumption, as this creates fats and fats can manifest as lipids that may eventually clog arteries.

Reduce your stress levels by exercise, rest, recreation and if necessary by therapeutic means.

Based on the existing evidence out there an overall change in the lifestyle of some people, especially the American male, is what is really required to be a tad heart healthy! Reducing cholesterol alone, removing things from the diet may only be a band aide that could lead to other problems or still make you face heart problems.

There seems to be more to the problems of living better than just worrying about cholesterol, in fact the stress of these worries can cause just as many problems.

Most people simply have gotten into a habit of eating bad things: Fries, burgers, chicken wings, donuts, pastries, wrong salad dressings and thinking that margarine is better than butter or a meatless life will keep you totally healthy. There seems to be no one way to totally clear up the problems of coronary disease.

What the “experts" in the majority tend to believe:

An HDL level of 40 mg or less is best at all times.
A total level of under 200 mg of cholesterol including less than 40 mg HDL is excellent.
Those with heart disease already or those who have had by-pass surgery should be under 100 mg.

Those who smoke should have a level at 130 mg or less

A level of more than 240 mg of cholesterol of any type is a concern for anyone of any age.

It should also be noted that some medical people are concerned over the Atkins diet because of the push to eat meats such as beef and pepperoni, which often leads to a higher than 40 mg HDL level, there is, however, no clear proof that for the few month duration of the hard-core Atkins meat feast any serious harm will result in a person under the age of 40 and the Atkins meat consumption is not supposed to go on indefinitely...

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