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Keeping cholesterol in check

Dr Anjali Mukerjee lists some foods which are effective in reducing bad cholesterol.

health and fitness Updated: Apr 03, 2007 19:16 IST

Although cholesterol is important, it could be harmful if we have more of the bad type i.e. low density lipoprotein and less of the good type i.e. high density lipoprotien which helps clean the LDL thus keeping the arteries clean. All of us have LDL cholesterol and HDL cholesterol in our blood streams.

LDL cholesterol is lower in protein density and carries more fatty acids and is more prone to oxidation. It delivers cholesterol to the tissues. If you do not consume sufficient antioxidants like Vitamin A, C, E, selenium, it can get oxidised very fast and that is when the problem begins. HDL cholesterol on the other hand is higher in protein density and carries less fatty acids.

It picks up excess cholesterol left by LDL and brings it back to the liver or to the tissue that needs it. Hence, it is called good cholesterol. Between these two types of cholesterol, LDL carries more oxygen and fatty acids and it is more prone to oxidation and produces cell damaging free radicals.

Therefore, when you have an undesirable cholesterol ratio i.e. more LDL and less HDL you need to improve it by correcting your diet. Food plays an important role, in not only reducing total cholesterol but also increasing HDL so as to improve the heart risk ratio. I strongly recommend intake of whole pulses, soya beans, garlic, ginger, fruits and vegetables for reducing cholesterol and raw onions for increasing HDL levels.

Other foods, which increase HDL, are fatty fish like salmon, surmai, bangada, bhetki etc. Nuts such as almonds, walnuts boost HDL, fruits like strawberries, apples, grapefruit contain soluble fibre which reduces cholesterol.

Olive oil and red wine also help in boosting beneficial HDL. I believe, that if you are one of those with the worst cholesterol readings i.e. very high LDL and very low HDL, then diet therapy would work best for you.

But if you are slightly above the normal range, then the efficacy of the diet in reducing cholesterol is also proportionately less. As long as your body is well nourished and you have sufficient supplies of antioxidants available you need not worry about your body’s ability to handle cholesterol.

However, if you are eating a lot of processed and refined foods, whole milk and red meat and your blood tests shows a bad HDL to total cholesterol ratio and very high cholesterol readings, then you must get down to some serious thinking about your dietary habits. Just by being vegetarians you do not wear a shield against heart disease.

If you scrutinised your dietary habits you may find that you are eating a lot of refined flour, cheese, consuming refined vegetable oils, white bread, sweets, chocolate cakes, ice creams, whole milk, fried items, there may be a total lack of exercise, or you may be highly stressed.

The degree to which your arteries get damaged depends on:
1. The amount of free radicals in the body (All these above men tioned foods promote cell dam aging free radical activity.)
2. The amount of antioxidants that you consume (antioxidants are present in fresh fruits and veg etables and in raw nuts and whole grains). They prevent free radical activity.
3. The type of oil you use for cook ing (refined vegetables oils are more unstable than olive oil.)
4. The amount of soluble fibre in your diet.

Evidence suggest that the major influence of foods on heart disease has more to do with blood clotting factors than with blood cholesterol. The way your blood clots is probably the most important determinant of whether you will suffer a heart attack, or a stroke.

It usually takes longer to reduce heart risks by lowering cholesterol, whereas you can sharply cut your chances of heart attack by preventing blood clots by consuming foods such as garlic, ginger, raw onions, hot peppers, cloves, green tea, olive oil, red wine and Vitamin E supplements.

Another important factor is blood fibrinogen, which is a protein responsible for clot formation. High blood levels of fibrinogen is a predictor a heart disease. Foods such as garlic, ginger, onions, red wine etc. help break up and dissolve unwanted clots in the blood.

The above mentioned foods when eaten in small quantities regularly can have powerful pharmalogical effects on your blood clots and thus can help save you from cardiovascular tragedies.