Is cholesterol unhealthy? A second look.

Eggs frying in oilCholesterol – it’s a very dirty, scary word in our culture.  Why?  Because so many people die every year from heart disease, which is largely blamed on dietary fat and cholesterol.  But there are quite a few misunderstandings about cholesterol and its role in health and disease. In this article I’m going to explain why we need cholesterol for health, why dietary cholesterol isn’t harmful, and why, if these things are true, high cholesterol is often associated with heart disease.

First of all, cholesterol is essential for optimum health and has numerous functions in the body.  Over 35,000 mg of cholesterol can be found in the average human body at any give time.  Most of that amount is found in the cell membranes, where it serves as an important structural component.  Cells need cholesterol to maintain the permeability that allows nutrients to nourish the cells.  Cholesterol is also the structural precursor for steroid hormones, such as testosterone, estrogen, and cortisol, all of which are crucial for proper metabolism and reproductive health.  Additionally, cholesterol is needed in order to produce one of the body’s most important vitamins, vitamin D.  Then there’s bile production (bile is essential for the digestion of fats) — it too depends on cholesterol.  The immune system is also strengthened by cholesterol.  And, finally, cholesterol is an essential component of myelin, which forms the protective sheaths around neurons, allowing the central nervous system to function properly!  Moral of the story: we need cholesterol!

If cholesterol has so many health benefits, then why is it associated with cardiovascular disease?  Well, a growing body of evidence is starting to reveal the answer.  Initially researchers noticed a correlation between cholesterol levels, especially high LDL cholesterol, and incidence of heart disease.  Then, as is so often the case in the realm of medicine, dietary cholesterol was demonized without an understanding of all the other factors at play.  We now know that dietary cholesterol actually has a very minimal effect on blood cholesterol levels, if any, and that saturated fats, in and of themselves, don’t cause elevated cholesterol levels either.  In fact, the body is highly efficient at maintaining cholesterol levels and will actually decrease it’s own production of cholesterol when cholesterol is obtained from diet.

While LDL undoubtedly has a role in atherosclerosis, few people seem to known what LDL is or that there are actually different types of LDL.  Not all LDL is created equal.  In a nutshell, LDL (Low Density Lipoprotein) is basically a protein shuttle that carries cholesterol to the cells. The cells then use the cholesterol to repair the themselves or produce hormones.  LDL levels are known to rise as a result of mental stress (stress drains the body of stress hormones that are cholesterol-based), physical injury, smoking (which causes injury to the cells), and overeating.  LDL levels can also be elevated as a result of a genetic predisposition to having fewer LDL receptors.  If there aren’t enough receptors on the cells, then the LDL continues circulating in the blood stream where it can eventually lodge into the arteries and promote arterial plaque.

It’s important to reiterate that LDL, in and of itself, isn’t unhealthy.  In a way, a high ratio of LDL to HDL is merely a sign that the body is undergoing some form of stress that needs to be remedied.  Targeting LDL is kind of like removing the warning signal  instead of fixing the actual problem.  LDL is important because it provides nourishment to the cells, but there are two factors that can make LDL particularly problematic: particle size and oxidation.

A high carbohydrate diet, particularly one that’s  high in fructose and refined sugar, can caused the body to produce a certain type of LDL called Small Dense LDL.  These LDL particles are smaller and denser than they should be, which makes them more prone to lodging themselves in artery cell walls and initiating the first stages of atherosclerosis and heart disease.  A whole-food based diet, however, that’s higher in healthy fats, causes the body to produce larger, fluffier LDL particles that don’t damage the arteries as easily.

Perhaps even more dangerous than Small Dense LDL particles are oxidized LDL particles. Several recent studies have found a direct correlation between the amount of LDL oxidation in circulation and an increased risk for cardiovascular disease.  Oxidized LDL is basically a damaged, unstable LDL molecule that is absorbed by the arteries’ immune cells in self-defense.  When oxidized LDL is absorbed by these cells (called macrophages) foam cells can form that bulge and lead to atherosclerosis.

So what causes oxidized LDL?  There are several potential culprits, for one, a diet high in polyunsaturated fats (PUFAs).  PUFAs (found in refined seed oils like corn, canola, and soybean oil) are unstable and prone to damage.  When these types of fats are digested, they’re used for building LDL particles; in turn, these LDL particles are prone to oxidation.  Saturated and monounsaturated fats, by contrast, (butter and olive oil) are much less prone to oxidation and, therefore, result in LDL that is resistant to oxidation.

Inadequate supplies of antioxidants, especially Co-enzyme Q10 and vitamin E, can also lead to excess oxidized LDL.  Coenzyme q10 is specially manufactured by the body to protect LDL and HDL cholesterol from damage, but in order to produce it, the body needs plenty of b-vitamins.  Coenzyme q10 can also be obtained from grass-fed beef (especially the liver) and from dietary supplements.  Studies indicate that supplemental co-enzyme q-10 does have a cardioprotective role and can protect LDL from oxidation.  Vitamin E is another important fat-soluble antioxidant for protecting lipoproteins, but it works best in the presences of co-enzyme q-10.  There are also a number of polyphenols from plants that have the ability to protect against oxidation, as well as increase the number of LDL receptors (which means there are more “nets” to remove LDL from the blood stream).  Some of these polyphenols include EGCG from green tea, resveratrol from red wine, and quercetin, which is found in onions, apples, and berries.

The Take Away: Our bodies absolutely depend on cholesterol for health.  While, in certain cases, cholesterol can contribute to heart disease, dietary cholesterol isn’t the problem.  The quality of cholesterol the body produces is more relevant than the quantity.  Healthy cholesterol depends on eating the right kinds of oils (monounsaturated and saturated fats found in natural products like butter, olive oil, and coconut oil), grass-fed meats, and plenty of leafy greens that are high in fat-soluble anti-oxidants.  High LDL levels may require a dietary and/or lifestyle change, including stress reduction.  Some people are also genetically predisposed to having higher LDL levels, in which case it’s especially important to prevent LDL particles from becoming oxidized by eating a creation-based diet.

References: Dietary Cholesterol Reduces Endogenous Production, The Role of Oxidized LDL in Atherosclerosis, Is Dietary Cholesterol as Bad for You as History Leads us to Believe?, Regulation of LDL by Carbohydrates, Small Dense LDL and Atherosclerosis, Association of Circulating Oxidized LDL with Heart Disease, Effects of Co-enzyme q10 on Oxidized LDL in Vitro, Cardioprotective Effects of Dietary Polyphenols, Consumption of Fructose and HFCS Increase LDL, Green Tea Upregulates LDL Receptors

 

Originally posted 2013-06-04 17:33:00.

Whole Oranges vs. Orange Juice

Have you ever wondered if drinking orange juice is as healthy as eating the whole orange? Perhaps you haven’t, but many people seem to think that drinking a serving of fruit juice is equivalent to eating a serving of whole fruit. This misunderstanding is reinforced by claims the USDA allows fruit juice companies to make on their products, such as “One serving is equal to one serving of fruit.” I’m not quite sure how the USDA arrived at supporting such a statement (probably because of the lobbying pressure from large food companies), but to say what is in some cases little more than liquid sugar is equal to a serving of whole fruit is preposterous. Don’t get me wrong, some juices are better than others, such as the less refined ones that are unfiltered or with pulp, and fruit juice is usually healthier than soda, but even juice with a little bit of fiber left in it doesn’t compare nutritionally to a serving of whole fruit.

Whole oranges and orange juice provide the perfect opportunity to compare the differences between the two. Check out the picture above of the three glasses of processed oranges. The glass on the left contains the juices of three hand squeezed oranges while the two glasses on the right contain the pulp and juice of three whole oranges that I liquified in a blender (minus the peel). Three whole oranges produced almost twice the volume of material as the juice alone. That extra material is the pulp and pith which contain a number of important nutrients that work together to make the whole orange a highly nutritious food.

To start, the high fiber content of a whole orange helps the body properly process the high fructose content of the juice. The fiber actually blocks some of the sugar from being absorbed, which makes the orange more nutritious for the amount of calories it contains. The fiber also makes a whole orange much more filling than the juice (it’s far easier to consume several glasses of high sugar orange juice than several whole oranges). If you eat a whole orange you’ll also be more satisfied and less hungry for calorie-dense, nutritionally-deficient food later on.

In addition to the benefits of the extra fiber in the pulp, a whole orange contains numerous health promoting micro-nutrients that aren’t found in the juice alone. One of the most researched is a flavanoid called hesperidin, which is concentrated in the pulp and inside of the peel. Hesperidin shows promise as an anti-inflammatory, in lowering blood pressure, and in promoting healthy cholesterol. One animal study also found that a diet rich in orange pulp increased bone density!

I’m not saying that we should never drink orange juice again; studies have shown that fresh-squeezed orange juice has significant anti-oxidant properties. It’s just important to know that the juice isn’t as healthy or satisfying as the whole fruit. Juices and other drinks can be a hidden source of surplus calories for those trying to live healthfully. A diet that emphasizes whole fruits over juices contains fewer sugary calories and more health promoting nutrients!

Originally posted 2013-01-12 02:35:00.

Eggs revisited

Eggs and other foods containing cholesterol have been given an extremely bad wrap over the past 30-years; yet, contemporary research is revealing that cholesterol might not be the cause of cardiovascular disease after all. Rather, the biggest culprit of metabolic syndrome (diabetes, high blood pressure, and coronary heart disease) is the health degrading combination of an American high-carb diet (refined flour, starches, and sugars) with a physically inactive lifestyle. So, don’t ditch the eggs and bacon – lose the donuts and pancakes! Eggs shouldn’t be avoided because of their high cholesterol content.

Every egg is loaded with six grams of high quality protein!  Eggs also contain important nutrients that many people don’t get enough of in their diets, such as choline, biotin, and selenium. And if it didn’t get any better, eggs are an extremely versatile food (fry em’, boil em’, scramble em’), delivered in biodegradable, compostable, and edible packaging.  Thats right, edible – in fact, up until a few years ago, it was common for people to eat the shells, which are 98% calcium!  For more information on eggs, cholesterol, and heart health, click the link below:

Dr. Katz from Yale University on Eggs and Cholesterol

“Which of you fathers, if your son asks for a fish, will give him a snake instead? Or if he asks for an egg, will give him a scorpion? If you then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!” -Luke 11:11-13. According to Jesus, eggs are a good gift! Interestingly enough, he also mentions fish, which are also incredibly good for health!

Originally posted 2011-04-06 17:12:00.

How 'bout green tea?

Green Tea health benefits

Green tea is showing up everywhere these days from face wash and shampoo, to energy drinks. Though green tea’s health benefits have been known in the Eastern hemisphere for thousands of years, recent research is confirming these benefits and revealing what makes green tea so effective.

History of Green Tea

Green tea, black tea, white tea and oolong tea all come from the same species of plant camellia sinesis. These are actually the only teas that can officially be called tea. Each tea has a unique flavor, color and properties depending on the way it is processed.

Green tea is very minimally processed and has been used as a medicine in China for over 4000 years. Green tea has been used to treat depression, digestive issues and nervous conditions. Due to the findings of modern research, green tea has become popular in the Western Hemisphere as well. 

Health Benefits of Green Tea

Green tea can boost metabolism. Green tea’s catechins, in combination with its moderate caffeine content, can help you burn fat more quickly.

Green tea helps prevent heart disease. A Harvard Health study found that those who drank the most green tea had a 28% lower risk of coronary artery disease.  The antioxidants in green tea help lower Low Density Lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol and boost High Density Lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol.

Green tea improves exercise endurance. Since the catechins in green tea boost the body’s ability to use fat as fuel, this helps improve your body’s muscular endurance. The antioxidants in green tea also help the body’s muscles recover more quickly.

Green tea helps prevent diabetes. Green tea can help regulate glucose levels by slowing the rise of blood sugar after eating a meal, in turn preventing insulin spikes.

Green tea reduces the risk of cancer. The antioxidants are thought to fight free radicals that may cause cancer.

Green tea reduces acne. Green tea’s catechins have also been found to fight the bacteria that grow in the skin’s pores and cause acne. 

Green tea helps fight wrinkles and the signs of aging. Due to its antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties, green tea reduces sun damage to the skin when applied topically.

Nutrition Highlights

  • 0 calories
  • 0g fat
  • 0mg sodium
  • 0g carbohydrates

Considerations

As with most things in life, moderation is key. According to a Harvard Health study, the catechins found in green tea have been reported to raise liver enzymes in animals. Green tea is also a source of oxalates which can cause kidney stones. If you have a history of kidney stones, it would probably be a good idea to stick with less than five cups of green tea per day.

Drink up

I enjoy hot, decaffeinated green tea in the evening with some honey, but it’s also delicious cold.  To make iced green tea, simply brew your tea as usual, then refrigerate  for 30 minutes (make sure to remove the tea bag before refrigerating, as the bitter qualities increase with time). After refrigerating, add some ice cubes, a straw, and a drizzle of honey (if  desired).

ReferencesThe Green Tea Revolution on Random HistoryThe Miracle of Green Tea on About.comBenefit of drinking green tea.. on Harvard Health PublicationGreen tea may lower heart disease risk on Harvard Health Publication13 Reasons Tea is Good for You on Time Health & Family

Originally posted 2013-10-07 15:37:14.