Understanding Good, Bad Cholesterol is Half the Battle

From The Lancaster News May 27th 2009

As a natural body builder and an athlete for more than 10 years, I’m still amazed at how my body responds to the foods I eat. During any contest training regimen, 80 percent of my body transformation comes from food.

It interests me when people say “your diet is strict because you don’t eat any fats” or “body builders follow a zero fat diet with high protein.” I hate to break the news, but that’s a myth. We have fats in our diet and in some cases, even eat “cheat meals.”

While an athlete’s protein intake may be higher than the average person’s, these measures are necessary due to the physical activity and stress demands placed on our muscular system.These proteins play a significant part in building new muscle and supporting our muscles during recovery.

However, this doesn’t change our muscle ratio. It’s still the same 78 percent water and 22 percent protein ratio.

That’s where the good fats and bad fats that make up cholesterol come in.

During cheat meals, I intentionally add a little fat to aid metabolism and digestion. Notice I said a little, not a daily portion. Please understand this is looking at a diet from a competitor’s point of view.

However, the same basic methodology applies to everyone who is trying to take care of their health in the midst of epidemic obesity rates and other problems related to an improper diet.That’s why it’s so important to have a basic understanding of cholesterol. In the next two weeks – today and June 3 – I’ll try to simplify the complex riddle of cholesterol.

When most people hear the word cholesterol, they automatically assume that it is bad; however, cholesterol can be a double-edged sword. By maintaining a proper cholesterol level, your body can fight off the bad stuff and help keep other internal organs and bodily functions in check. On the other hand, too much cholesterol and the end result can be death.

What is cholesterol?

Cholesterol is a soft, waxy substance found in all of your body’s cells. Your body needs it to work properly since it holds the cells together. Your body also uses it to help convert sunlight into vitamin D, and it is a significant factor in supporting substances that help you digest foods. However, too much of it in your blood causes serious problems, such as high cholesterol, hypercholesterolemia and hyperlipidemia.

Cholesterol comes from two places. Our body actually makes most of what it needs in the liver. The rest comes from the foods we eat. Cholesterol is only made by animals, so you can only get it by eating red meat, chicken, fish, eggs, butter, cheese and whole milk.

None of it comes from plants. Cholesterol-free foods include fruits, vegetables and whole grains.

A really quick crash course on understanding the different types of fats:

  • Saturated fat – Saturated fat is basically the bad stuff that’s not good for your heart, arteries, colon and blood pressure.
  • Polyunsaturated fat – Studies show that this fat is known to help to lower the risk of heart attack and cardiovascular disease.
  • Monounsaturated fat – This is a good fat. Think of polyunsaturated fat and monounsaturated as a team.
  • Trans fat – This is one of the not-good-for-you fats found in most shelved foods, cookies and snacks.

Manufacturers add trans fats as a preservative to give prepackaged foods a longer shelf life. Some of the foods labeled “trans fat-free” are not always 100 percent trans fat free. FDA guidelines for trans fat labeling only requires it if the product contains more than 0.5 grams per serving.

If the amount is less than half a gram, food manufacturers have the option to list it in the nutritional facts label with a “0” serving of trans fat. This can be misleading as consumers buy and use the product thinking it is totally trans fat-free.

Risk factors

Studies show that you’re more likely to have high cholesterol, which can lead to heart disease, if you have any of these risk factors:

– Smoking – Cigarette smoking damages the walls of your blood vessels, making them likely to accumulate fatty deposits. Smoking may also lower your level of high-density lipoprotein (HDL) or “good” cholesterol).

– Obesity – A body mass index (BMI) of 30 or greater puts you at risk of high cholesterol.

– Poor diet – High cholesterol foods, such as red meat and full-fat dairy products, increase your total cholesterol. Eating saturated fat, found in animal products, and trans fats, found in some commercially baked cookies and crackers can also raise your cholesterol numbers. Individuals carrying excessive weight and toxins in the colon are two other major causes for high cholesterol.

– Lack of exercise – Exercise helps boost your body’s HDL (good) cholesterol, while lowering your high-density lipoprotein (LDL), or bad cholesterol. Not getting enough exercise puts you at risk of high cholesterol.

– High blood pressure – Increased pressure on artery walls causes damage, which can speed the accumulation of fatty deposits.

– Diabetes – High blood glucose levels contribute to higher LDL (bad) cholesterol and lower HDL (good) cholesterol. High blood glucose levels also damage artery linings.

– Family history of heart disease – If a parent or sibling developed heart disease before age 55, high cholesterol levels place you at a greater than average risk of developing heart disease.

On June 3, we will look at where high cholesterol comes from and a few recommendations on how to control it. Until then, train hard and eat healthy.

Fitness expert and bodybuilder Kennett Washington is president of Healing Strength Personal Training.

(Click Here to Read Part 2)