Advice for a balanced diet
Cholesterol: an enemy who wishes you well?
Poor cholesterol has been blamed and condemned for generating cardiovascular conditions. Is this really the truth? It has never killed anyone, quite the contrary, without it we would die!
On the diagram above, you can notice that the cholesterol sediment settles in the artery.
Nevertheless, cholesterol is crucial to the organism, it is a fatty substance (a lipid), which is produced by the liver and is an essential component of cellular membranes, certain hormones and the spleen. The liver produces about 75% of the cholesterol in the body while food supplies the other 25%.
Although heredity plays an important role in the cholesterol blood levels, unhealthy lifestyles raise the levels (namely bad eating habits, sedentary lifestyle, nicotine addictions).
Food from animal sources (meat, eggs, fish, shellfish and whole fat dairy products) are the only foods that contain cholesterol, but it must be highlighted that saturated fatty acids, hydrogenated and trans, even from vegetable sources, accentuate the cholesterol blood levels, as they are turned into cholesterol by the liver.
Cholesterol, like other blood lipids, is not soluble in the blood. To flow to the cells, it needs to be carried by substances called lipoproteins.
A deficiency in cholesterol is just as harmful as an excess. Indeed, cholesterol is part of the composition of the cells’ membranes. It is essential to ensure their permeability. It is also essential in the synthesis of certain hormones as well as a precursor of vitamin D. Cholesterol also forms the bile. Without bile we are unable to digest the fat in our meals.
There are two kinds of cholesterol:
The HDL (the high density lipoprotein-a).
It is considered « good cholesterol ». It carries the cholesterol to the liver and has a « cleansing » role in the blood vessels.
The LDL (the low density lipoprotein-b).
It is considered « bad cholesterol ». It settles on the artery walls. If it is oxidized it triggers an inflammatory process and causes the accumulation of various substances that in the long run will create a plaque, which in turn will shrink the diameter of the arteries. This is what is called atherosclerosis (re the diagram on the first page).
As well as hindering the blood flow, this plaque can deeply harm the artery walls; these injuries of the arteries can then lead to the formation of blood clots or even pieces of the plaque detaching itself from the walls (thrombosis). In turn, these clots, blocked by the plaques, as well as pieces of detached plaques, could block the artery or flow further and cause an obstruction elsewhere in the blood system.
High levels of cholesterol, even « bad cholesterol », is not an illness. It is even possible that it might not lead to any harmful consequence. However, linked to other factors (nicotine dependence, diabetes, high blood pressure, obesity, physical inactivity, stress, etc.), hypercholesterolemia can increase the risk of cardiovascular disorders through oxidation (oxidized LDL).
The only way to know if the total cholesterol and the «bad cholesterol» counts are too high is through a lipid screening with a blood test and especially the oxidized LDL antibody count.
Due to the formation of antibodies, we can already confirm that atherosclerosis is an auto-immune illness.
Do not develop a phobia of cholesterol. Currently, doctors are very concerned by this, but cholesterol alone is not dangerous for your health. The oxidized fraction, linked to other inflammatory factors (such as: homosysteine, CRP us, omega-3/6/9 profile,…) can increase the risk of cardiovascular disorders, etc… Do not take any medication without thinking it over. Is the situation really risky? All medication has its side effects. Do not take statins without a Q10 coenzyme as the statin blocks its production. Without the Q10 coenzyme every cell in our body suffers, which can manifest itself in muscle pain, fatigue, or muscle cramps.
When the first pain appears in the chest (angina) or the inferior limbs, it means that the arteries have already lost 75% to 90% of their functionality.
Cholesterol has a number of essential roles:
- it intervenes in the production of steroid hormones (DHEA, cortisol, estrogens, testosterones).
- it also plays a role in the permeability of our cell membranes (e.g.: brain = 25000m² of membranes...)
- it is also the precursor of bile, an essential element to digesting fat.
On the above diagram, we can see where statin acts and therefore if it blocks the formation of cholesterol, it also blocks the formation of the Q10 coenzyme, of steroid hormones, vitamin D, bile salts etc …
The risk factors
Other than heredity, the contributing factors to cholesterol are life style habits:
• Eating (responsible for 25% of the production of cholesterol). A diet rich in saturated fat, trans fatty acids and cholesterol.
• Nicotine addiction.
• Overweight. Being overweight leads to a rise in triglyceride counts and LDL (« the bad cholesterol ») and lowers the HDL counts (« the good cholesterol »).
• Diabetes type II.
• Sedentary life style.
• Some illnesses such as chronic kidney failure and hypothyroidism can lead to high levels of cholesterol.
• Using certain medication increases the LDL counts and lowers the HDL: types of progestogen, anabolic steroids and corticosteroids.
Basic preventive measures
Have a healthy diet, rich in fibers and low in fat. In your menu you should have a lot of fruit and vegetables as well as whole grains. Choose your shortening carefully by favoring monounsaturated fats (e.g. olive oil) and polyunsaturated fat (e.g. walnut oil, canola oil). Fatty fish (except tuna, mackerel, swordfish due to their high levels of heavy metal), food from soya (tofu, soya milk, tempeh), nuts and grains also contribute to maintaining a good level of cholesterol.
Here are some basic dietary recommendations: every day eat:
• whole-wheat products (bread, noodles, rice,…)
• at least 300g of vegetables and 2 fruits
• max 2 servings of low-fat dairy products;
• max 2 serving of meat or cold cuts low in fat or substitutes (soya, dry beans) • less than 300 mg of cholesterol;
• from 25 g to 35 g of fibers.
And 2 to 3X a week fatty fish instead of meat (salmon, sardines, haring, eel, halibut, trout, sea bass, carpe) (avoid tuna, mackerel, swordfish and red mullet as they contain a lot of mercury!!!)
All vegetables fresh, canned and frozen are allowed. Vegetables must be steam cooked or boiled and then seasoned according to taste.
Chicken stock, fresh or frozen vegetable soups are recommended. Chicken soup or cream based soups and canned soups are to be limited.
Only dry fruits are not recommended in large quantities: almonds, peanuts, prunes, raisins, etc… Also to be avoided are canned fruits in syrup, candied fruit and fruit preserved in alcohol.
The calorie distribution must be the following:
• less that 30 % of the calories come from fat, of which 10 % or less come from saturated fats. This means a maximum of 65g of fat for a daily calorie count of 2 000 kCal;
• about 60 % of the calories come from carbohydrates;
• about 10 % of the calories come from protein
Limit your intake of cholesterol, trans fat and saturated fat. The medical authorities advise to limit the daily intake of cholesterol to below the 300mg per day cap. To reach this goal, limit the food with high cholesterol or saturated fatty acids such as giblets, fatty meat, cold cuts, eggs, and whole mild dairy products (cream, butter, cheese).
Furthermore, we recommend not eating more than 170g of lean meat, chicken or fish per day. Reducing one’s intake of trans fatty acids requires extra vigilance, as many transformed products contain them (margarine, frozen French fries, cookies, doughnuts, industrial cakes and pastries, etc.).
Adopt unsaturated fat instead. Unsaturated fatty acids replace saturated fatty acids favorably in the diet. They can be found in many foods: vegetable oils (olive, canola, walnut), fish (especially fatty fish from cold waters such as salmon, sardines and haring, which are excellent sources of omega-3), and certain nuts, in moderate amounts (cashew nuts, hazelnuts, pecans, etc.).
Stop smoking. Nicotine addiction damages the arterial walls and reduces the HDL counts. If you stop smoking this count could go back to its initial level. A good advice, reduce your consumption to 1 cigarette a week, so that you can stop smoking without gaining weight and without too many psychological constraints!
Do a physical activity and if you are overweight, lose weight. Regular physical activity can increase the HDL counts and reduce the LDL as well as limiting the weight, hypertension and diabetes. The area where fat accumulates can also increase the risk of atherosclerosis: those who stock extra fat around the waist have a higher risk than those who accumulate fat elsewhere (e.g. on the hips or thighs) because the fat collects around the intra-abdominal organs, an important risk factor for high cholesterol and metabolic syndrome.
To do physical exercise (gym, jogging or another sport) you must have a good general condition. Consult your doctor before beginning a sport.
An important factor is starting a sport gradually. The more you had a sedentary life before the more gradual it must be, not only in terms of length of time as well as the intensity or the distance.
Doing exercises regularly is the key to progress. Once every two days all year long shows more results than exercising one straight week and then nothing the rest of the year.
If you drink alcohol, drink moderately. According to epidemiological studies, a moderate and regular consumption of alcohol (not more than one glass a day for women and two for men) seems to increase the HDL count. But if you do not drink alcohol, do not start as the risks linked to alcohol (alcoholism, high blood pressure, obesity, AVC, cancer to mention just a few) greatly outnumber its advantages.
Alcohol must be considered a dangerous « sugar » as it increases the calorie share and is thus responsible for the increase of triglyceride fat in the blood.
The same is true for sweet beverages: fruit juice, lemonade...
It has recently been discovered that light drinks trigger an insulin response similar to sugar, and therefore lead to stocking. Drink water, it can be learnt!
In conclusion, a lipid-lowering program must follow on average, the amounts below, to be distributed among the three meals of the day:
• Bread: 4 to 6 slices
• Lean meat or fish: max 150g cooked and 30g of lean cold cuts.
• Starches (potatoes) or rice or noodles: 150 to 250g
• Green vegetables: 200 to 400g or more
• Cheese: 20 à 40g
• Oil seasoning: 15g (olive oil or rapeseed oil or equivalent)
• Butter: 5 to 10g max (no margarines or halvarines)
• Fruit: 2 to 4
• Liquids: 1.5 to 2 liters (preferably water)
• Milk and dairy products: 300 to 400 ml (if possible few cow products)
These daily amounts allow you to eat well and «to your full». Do not get lost in counting the amounts eaten, calories and fat intake. Follow our guidelines by scrupulously sticking to the program that you have been prescribed.
The trans fatty acids
Hydrogenation is an industrial process that modifies la configuration of unsaturated fatty acid molecules. This process is used to lengthen the shelf life of margarine, to give them a better consistency and increase their tolerance to high cooking temperatures.
Hydrogenated margarine gradually appeared during the 40s and 50s. Nowadays, we even add hydrogenated oils to industrial lard to give it a firmer texture and lengthen its shelf life. It can be said that trans fatty acids are omnipresent in all transformed ingredients and food.
The motivation to use these fatty acids is purely industrial and economic. Furthermore, due to the bad reputation of saturated fatty acids, it was thought that by replacing them with hydrogenated oils, the incidence of cardiovascular conditions would slow down, yet it has not ceased to grow.
Only today has it been understood that just like saturated fatty acids, trans fat (synthetic) increases the LDL (« bad cholesterol ») counts in the blood while lowering the HDL (« good cholesterol »). It is important to count the amount of LDL antibodies – oxidized, as it shows the bad cholesterol that sticks to the vascular walls. It is therefore more important to know the oxidized fraction of LDL cholesterol than the LDL itself.
The risk of suffering from a cardiovascular condition is always present, even higher, as trans fats could increase this risk by 132% compared to 32% for saturated fats.
As long as we stuck to natural trans fat, whose molecular configuration differs from the synthetic trans fat, and which can only be found in small amounts in nature, the health risks were almost inexistent.
Trans fats are found in ready-made dishes, sweets, cookies, cakes, pastries, dough, spreads, industrial chocolate, industrial pastries, cereal, margarine made from hydrogenated oil …
Since the rules and regulations to not require the producers to show the amount of trans fat in their products, the only option is to calculate it yourself in the following way:
• Add the saturated and unsaturated fat (polyunsaturated + mono-unsaturated)
• Take this amount away from the total amount of fat in the product;
• The result is the amount of trans fat.
Example: for a product that shows a fat content of 7 g, with 2 g of saturated, 1 g of mono-unsaturated fatty acids and 1 g polyunsaturated fatty acids, we can conclude that it contains 3 g (7-4) of trans fatty acids.
Check the labels, no trans fat? Ok! You can buy the product.
We have grown accustomed over the past decades, to using hydrogenated fats for the preparation of many dishes that we make from scratch. We must therefore reintroduce recipes based on pure olive oil, use walnut or canola oil to season raw vegetables and keep the butter for eating cold (do not heat butter) but in small amounts.