by Monique N. Gilbert, B.Sc.
Natural Health Advocate, Recipe Developer, Freelance Writer and Author of Virtues of Soy: A Practical Health Guide and Cookbook
The American Heart Association (AHA) states that cholesterol is a substance found in all animal-based foods and fats. (Plant-based foods do not contain cholesterol.) They also say that the human body constantly makes cholesterol, mostly in the liver and kidneys.
In our body, cholesterol is most common in the blood, brain tissue, liver, kidneys, adrenal glands and the fatty covers around nerve fibers. It helps absorb and move fatty acids. Cholesterol is necessary to form cell membranes, for the making of vitamin D on the surface of the skin and the making of various hormones, including the sex hormones. It sometimes hardens in the gallbladder and forms into gallstones. High amounts of cholesterol in the blood have been linked to the development of cholesterol deposits in the blood vessels, known as atherosclerosis.
Cholesterol, and other fats, can't dissolve in the blood. They have to be transported to and from the cells by special carriers of lipids and proteins called lipoproteins. There are several kinds of lipoproteins, but the ones to be most concerned about are low density and high density lipoproteins.
Low density lipoprotein (LDL) carries the bulk of the cholesterol in the blood, and has a central role in the atherosclerotic process. LDL penetrates the walls of blood vessels and arteries feeding the heart and brain; where they are oxidized by free radicals and accumulate as a gruel-like material that blocks the blood vessels. When this plaque-like material leaks into the blood vessel, it can cause a blood clot (thrombosis). Thrombosis can lead to a stroke if the clot goes to the brain, or a heart attack if the clot blocks a coronary artery. A high level of LDL cholesterol reflects an increased risk of heart disease and stroke, which is why LDL cholesterol is often called the bad cholesterol.
High density lipoprotein (HDL) only carries approximately one-third to one-fourth of the blood cholesterol in our body. HDL cholesterol has a protective effect, preventing LDL oxidation and removing cholesterol that accumulates in the blood vessel walls. Medical experts believe HDL carries cholesterol away from the arteries and back to the liver, where it is eliminated from the body. They also suspect HDL removes excess cholesterol from atherosclerotic plaques and slows their growth. A high level of HDL seems to protect against heart attack and stroke, which is why HDL is known as the good cholesterol.
Cholesterol is measured in milligrams per deciliter of blood (mg/dL). Total blood cholesterol is the most common measurement of cholesterol. It is the number you normally receive as test results. Knowing your total blood cholesterol level is an important first step in determining your risk for heart disease and stroke. An important second step is knowing your level of good HDL cholesterol in relation to total cholesterol. Some doctors use the ratio of total cholesterol to HDL cholesterol. The goal is to keep the ratio below 5 to 1, with the optimum ratio at 3.5 to 1.
Triglycerides are also often measured when testing for cholesterol levels. Triglycerides are the chemical form in which most fat exists in food as well as in the body. Calories ingested in a meal and not used immediately are converted to triglycerides and transported to fat cells to be stored. Hormones regulate the release of triglycerides from fat tissue so they meet the body's needs for energy between meals. Elevated triglycerides are linked to the occurrence of coronary artery disease and may be a consequence of other diseases, such as untreated diabetes mellitus.
Saturated fats and trans fats (trans fatty acids) are the chief culprits in raising blood cholesterol and triglyceride levels. Ingesting animal-based products and hydrogenated fats can significantly increase both of these levels. This is why it is important to understand how cholesterol affects our body, and why we should try to keep it under control.
Want a delicious, nutritious cholesterol-free way to start your day? Then try this absolutely wonderful heart-healthy pancake recipe from my book Virtues of Soy: A Practical Health Guide and Cookbook.
1/2 cup cornmeal
1/2 cup unbleached bread flour
4 teaspoons baking powder
1 tablespoon sugar (optional)
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon canola oil
1/2 cup soymilk
1/2 cup water
1. Mix together cornmeal, flour, baking powder, salt, and sugar.
2. Add canola oil, soymilk and water. Mix to a smooth consistency.
3. Heat and oil a skillet with canola oil. For each pancake, drop about 2 tablespoons of batter into the well oiled skillet.
4. When pancakes bubble and are lightly browned on one side, flip over. Lightly brown other side, then remove from skillet and put on a plate.
5. Use a big soup pot lid to cover pancakes until done cooking all of the batter. This will keep pancakes warm and supple. Serve with maple syrup.
Makes 8-10 pancakes (2-4 servings)
This article and recipe are excerpts from
Monique N. Gilbert's book
Virtues of Soy: A Practical Health Guide and Cookbook
(Universal Publishers, 2001, pp. 18-20, 49).
Copyright © Monique N. Gilbert - All Rights Reserved.
Monique N. Gilbert has a Bachelor of Science degree, is a Certified Personal Trainer/Fitness Counselor, Natural Health Advocate, Recipe Developer, Freelance Writer and Author. She began a whole grain, vegetable-rich diet as a child. This introduced her to a healthier way of eating and became the foundation of her dietary choices as an adult. She became a full-fledged vegetarian on Earth Day 1990. Over the years she has increased her knowledge and understanding about health and fitness, and the important role diet plays in a person's strength, vitality and longevity. Monique feels it is her mission to educate and enlighten everyone about the benefits of healthy eating and living.
For more information, visit Monique's website at www.MoniqueNGilbert.com