By Shiva Seetahal, MD
Cholesterol is a word everyone is familiar with but few can easily explain. Most of us are aware that too much cholesterol is bad for the body and associated with heart disease, but recent insights into the roles of “good” cholesterol and terms such as “trans” fat have created areas of confusion regarding this substance.
Cholesterol is a compound that occurs in foods as well as naturally in our bodies; it is integral to life but too much can lead to disease. Foods that contain cholesterol also contain variations of fats known as “trans” fats and “saturated” fats. These are the undesirable fats that we generally try to avoid. Consuming too much of these substances can increase the “bad” cholesterols in the body (LDL) and lower the “good” (HDL). When this occurs, we get damage to our blood vessels that manifest as heart disease, strokes, and other ailments.
So how can we limit the amount of these undesirable substances in our diet? The best first step is knowing what we are eating. Get in the habit of reading the nutritional labels on meals before consuming. Aim for foods lower in saturated and trans fats. Daily cholesterol consumption should be less than 200 mg. Another option is to eat more foods that lower cholesterol in the body. Fiber in soluble form (whole-grains, beans, fruit, etc.) reduce the absorption of cholesterol in the gut. Finally, foods high in omega-3 fatty acids (fish, nuts, chia seeds) can increase the “good” cholesterols in the body and reduce damaging effects of inflammation. This is a great attribute of the Mediterranean diet.
A healthy diet is one of moderation, so don’t forget to indulge yourself at intervals to avoid becoming discouraged. Hopefully, this sheds some light on some of the modern concepts surrounding cholesterol and its role in a healthy lifestyle.
Dr Seetahal is a board-certified general and bariatric surgeon. He has published over 20 scientific articles and book chapters. For questions related to surgical health, you can contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org, or call his office at 863-421-7626 to schedule an appointment.