Cholesterol: Choose Your Snacks Wisely
By Leslie Vandever
Everyone wants a snack once in a while. It’s simply a fact of life. Isn’t it great that America’s food industry so kindly provides such a humongous variety of snacks to choose from?
And they’re so good! You can get them salty or sweet (or both at the same time); spicy or savory or delicately flavored; crunchy or crumbly or soft; hot, cold, frozen or warm; large and small, bite-sized or by the handful.
Unfortunately, the majority of those scrumptious, tempting snacks aren’t very good for us. Along with a load of calories, many of them are also high in cholesterol, which can raise your risk of coronary heart disease.
You Have All You Need
Cholesterol is a fat-like, waxy substance. The body makes it to aid in building cell membranes and help with the digestive process. Cholesterol helps produce estrogen, testosterone, and several other compounds, including Vitamin D. Finally, it helps cells open a portal to collect glucose (blood sugar for energy) from its carrier, insulin.
The reality is that cholesterol is vital for life.
There are two types: LDL (low-density lipoprotein) cholesterol and HDL (high-density lipoprotein) cholesterol. The LDL type is large and fluffy. The HDL type forms a small, dense capsule. Your body makes both kinds in just the amount it needs and releases them into the bloodstream.
When we eat high-cholesterol foods—like many of the snacks mentioned above—we create a cholesterol overload in our blood. Too much LDL cholesterol is “bad.” It’s associated with coronary heart disease because it sticks to the coronary artery walls of the heart and builds up, forming a substance called plaque. Over time, the arteries narrow and lose flexibility (a condition called atherosclerosis, or “hardening of the arteries”). If a clump of plaque ruptures, a clot forms that can block the passage of oxygenated blood to the heart, causing a heart attack.
HDL cholesterol is the “good” type. It binds to unneeded LDL cholesterol and carries it to the liver, which gets rid of it safely.
You’re In Control
The cholesterol in our food comes from animal sources. Some of them—meat, dairy products, baked goods, chocolate, deep fried and processed foods—are very high in saturated fat, which in turn is very high in LDL “bad” cholesterol. They are the largest source of LDL cholesterol in the diet. Trans-fats—vegetable oils that are hydrogenated to harden them—are even worse. Found in some fried and processed foods, they raise LDL levels and lower HDL levels.
You can control the amount of LDL “bad” cholesterol in your diet by limiting or avoiding snacks that are high in cholesterol, saturated fat and trans fats. Choose snacks with “good” fats in them instead, like those with nuts and seeds, whole grains and fruit.
For the rest of your diet, include plenty of fresh vegetables, beans and legumes, nuts and seeds, unsaturated, plant-based fats like olive and canola oil, and small servings of lean meats and low-fat dairy foods.
Leslie Vandever—known as “Wren” to the readers of RheumaBlog, her personal blog about living well with rheumatoid arthritis—is a professional journalist and freelance writer with more than 25 years of experience. She lives in the foothills of Northern California.
- Fats and Cholesterol: Out With the Bad, In With the Good. (n.d.) Harvard School of Public Health. Retrieved on March 13, 2014 from http://www.hsph.harvard.edu/nutritionsource/fats-full-story/
- What is Cholesterol? (2012, Sept. 19) National Heart, Blood, and Lung Institute. National Institutes of Health. Retrieved on March 13, 2013 from http://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/health/health-topics/topics/hbc/
- High Cholesterol. (2013, Feb. 12) Mayo Clinic. Retrieved on March 13, 2014 from http://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/high-blood-cholesterol/basics/definition/con-20020865
- About Cholesterol. (2012, Dec. 10) American Heart Association. Retrieved on March 13, 2014 from http://www.heart.org/HEARTORG/Conditions/Cholesterol/AboutCholesterol/About-Cholesterol_UCM_001220_Article.js