Processed Foods and Cholesterol

Day 2 of cholesterol info at PWN…

As we learned yesterday, essential fatty acids are necessary for removing excess cholesterol from the body. A diet too low in essential fatty acids can lead to high blood cholesterol levels. Foods containing essential fatty acids include flax seeds, walnuts, salmon, halibut, shrimp, scallops, winter squash, hemp oil, almonds, dark leafy green vegetables, lean meats and eggs. But if someone is eating plenty of these foods, what else can cause high blood cholesterol?

A diet that contains many processed foods, such as fast food, potato chips, sodas, cake or brownie mixes and other baked goods, frozen meals (even those such as “Smart Ones” or labeled “lean” or “lite”!), sugary granola or fiber bars, pop tarts, boxed crackers or sugary yogurts, can increase cholesterol. These foods produce an excess of acetate in the body. Acetate is a compound of fat. When we have an excess of acetate, the body automatically uses the acetate to synthesize more cholesterol, causing our levels to rise.

Trans fats should be avoided at all costs. The problem is, trans fats are everywhere! Some surprising foods that contain trans fats include the line of Special K weight loss foods; boxed granola bars; Fig Newtons; microwave popcorn; and Ritz crackers. Some of these products may now write “no trans-fats” on their packaging, but they can still contain up to 0.5 grams and write that. Trans fats not only increase LDL (“bad”) cholesterol but they also decrease HDL (“good”) cholesterol. They are also linked to some cancers, including breast cancer.

Bottom Line: Like always, we come back to the importance of eating fresh, whole foods!

Usually people have high cholesterol for multiple reasons. A diet high in refined carbohydrates and processed foods, and low in essential fatty acids and other vitamins and minerals, is only one reason. Other factors that contribute to high cholesterol include stress, genes, obesity, alcohol consumption and exercise level.

One very important thing to keep in mind is that each person is different. Some people can have a few drinks each night, eat lots of processed foods and exercise very little, while still maintaining normal cholesterol levels. Their genes may cause them to have naturally low cholesterol levels, so these lifestyle choices don’t matter as much (although they still matter tons for other reasons, in my opinion!). Other people, though, may have to cut back to only one or two drinks per week, or exercise for an hour every day, or eliminate processed foods almost completely, just to keep their cholesterol levels in check. Each person must figure out what works for them. There is no magic diet or trick that can fix all cholesterol problems. Sacrifices must be made, and for some people this is tough to accept. But it's a matter of health, and people must decide what is more important. If you do have high cholesterol, I recommend trying something for six months and getting it checked again before turning to cholesterol-lowering drugs.

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