Fitness Column: Some information about cholesterol

We hear so much about high cholesterol and its relationship to diet and fitness. Perhaps a little information on the subject will answer a few of your questions.

Cholesterol is, first of all, a needed element for the body. It is required by all tissues of the body to form part of the membranes surrounding the cells. And it is used in the production of many of our hormones. It is a waxy type substance that is chemically different from fat. The foods we intake that are of animal origin, contain cholesterol. Foods with plant origin do not. Some of the needed cholesterol is manufactured by the body and some is taken in with the ingestion of animal fats. When our bodies absorb food cholesterol, we produce less cholesterol in the liver. Some of us have better self-regulating mechanisms than others, and consequently, some of us find ourselves with a more serious cholesterol problem than others. Since cholesterol does not dissolve in water, it is carried through the body in minute particles called lipoproteins. There are several forms of lipoproteins, two types are of the most interest here; low density lipoproteins (LDL), which supply most of the body with cholesterol, and high density lipoproteins (HDL), which seem to carry surplus cholesterol away from the cells and promote its excretion from the body.

Medical studies show the advantage of having more of the HDL in the blood. The risk of heart attack seems to be lessened because there is less tendency for the cholesterol to accumulate on the walls of the arteries. Women have a natural higher level of HDL than do men. An interesting factor is the interaction of physical exercise. The HDL cholesterol level can be increased in both sexes with the addition of regular physical exercise. Then, not surprisingly, the obese person tends to have a high LDL count and a low HDL count, pointing to the fact that weight reduction can often help in controlling cholesterol levels.

High or low levels of cholesterol in the blood plasma can be an inherited factor, or due to an inherited disorder. However, diet seems to have the most major effect on your body level of HDL and LDL. The more saturated hard fat ingested (in the form of animal fat), the higher the blood cholesterol level and the higher the LDL. Whereas, a diet low in animal fat, low in LDL, and high in HDL, tends to reduce blood cholesterol and blood triglyceride levels. More fiber added to the diet seems to help lower the cholesterol level; also increasing the pectin fruits, such as apples and bananas.

The American Health Foundation lists the optimal blood cholesterol level at 160 to 180 milligrams per 100 milliliters of blood. The upper limit is 220 and some 40 to 50 percent of the American adults may have levels about this limit. For children ages 5-18, the optimal level is 110 to 140 mg/100 ml. A lot of our kids are exceeding this figure!

Now is a good time to have a long hard look at the family diet. Some foods that are high in cholesterol and low in the needed HDL are egg yolks, beef, liver, organ meats, pork, hot dogs, lamb chops, croissants, Danish pastry, coconut, milk chocolate, ice cream, cream cheese, whole milk, lard, butter, cheese and cream, just about everything the American public loves to eat! The recommended daily intake of cholesterol is 200 mg. per day. A single egg yolk contains 252 mg. One cup of ice cream contains 85 mg. You can easily see where the average American diet can be quickly over-saturated in cholesterol. Spend some time learning which foods are best for maintaining a good level, and find out where you stand with your own cholesterol count. Talk with your doctors about any new important facts that are out. Stay informed. High cholesterol levels increase the risk of coronary heart disease, the risk of atherosclerosis affecting the legs and many other related diseases. It's interesting that again our daily diet seems to be a major factor in our daily health!

Jerry Vance is certified by the American Council on Exercise and teaches fitness at the Carson City Community Center and for the American Lung Association.


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