Non Vegetarians and high cholesterol

So many people I meet complain about having cholesterol problems. One of the signs is a growth of thick yellow patches on the skin, especially around the eyes. These are deposits of cholesterol. Another symptom is leg pain when exercising, which means the arteries are narrowing. What is cholesterol? It is a waxy steroid and is found in the blood of all animals. It comes from the Greek word choles for bile and sterol for stiff, and is a hard, waxy substance. Cell membranes, which wrap and protect the inner contents of all cells, must contain cholesterol in order to function properly. Cholesterol contributes firmness to membranes and keeps them from falling apart. It is involved in the production of hormones. It aids in the production of bile. It converts sunshine to vitamin D and helps in using vitamins A, D, E, and K.

Cholesterol is carried in the blood by molecules called lipoproteins which carry it from the liver, where it is manufactured, to the cells. If there is too much it is carried back to the liver where it is broken up as waste and expelled from the body. There are two types of lipoproteins  “Good” = HDL which collect extra cholesterol from around the body and carry it back to the liver to be eliminated from the body if we don’t need it. “Bad” = LDL which carry extra cholesterol made in the liver out to the rest of the cells in the body and deposit it in the arteries.

High concentrations in the blood promote a disease called atherosclerosis. Arteries are blood vessels that carry blood to the heart. Atherosclerosis is a hardening of the arteries in which artery walls thicken as a result of the accumulation of calcium and cholesterol. They stop being elastic and less blood travels through. This increases blood pressure and causes inflammation. It is the leading cause of heart attacks and stroke. Heart attack occurs when the supply of blood and oxygen to an area of heart muscle is blocked. Strokes occur when a blood clot blocks an artery or vein, interrupting the flow to an area of the brain.

The amount of cholesterol in human blood can vary from 3.6 mmol/litre to 7.8 mmol/litre.  Any reading over 5 mmol/litre is high and will significantly raise the risk of arterial disease. This is how your doctor’s reports will look :

Desirable - Less than 200 mg/dL.(milligrams per decilitre)

Bordeline high - 200 to 239 mg/dL.

High - 240 mg/dL and above.

In industrialized nations cholesterol levels are high in adults . One in ten children in the United States have got high levels of cholesterol. India is in the high cholesterol bracket. In fact, people from the Indian sub-continent (Pakistan, Bangladesh, India, Sri Lanka) are more susceptible to having higher cholesterol levels than other people

What causes high cholesterol?  The wrong food, for one: foods that contain cholesterol, such as eggs, kidneys, some seafoods.  Foods high in saturated fats: red meat,  sausages, cheese, lard,  cakes, most biscuits, and cream (there are many more).  People who are fat and people who do not exercise are much more likely to have high cholesterol; also, people who have diabetes and high blood pressure, high levels of triglycerides and under-active thyroid glands.Your risk factors increase if family members have had either high cholesterol, coronary heart disease or stroke.

What should you do to get your cholesterol and triglyceride levels back to normal? You can use medicines but the side effects are headaches, itching, and constipation/diarrhoea. The first thing would be to give up meat, eggs and milk. Eat plenty of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, oats. Exercise and sleep well. Since every single animal cell contains cholesterol, all animal foods contain cholesterol. All meats (chicken, fish, beef, pork, etc.) contain about the same amount of cholesterol per serving.

Certain animal foods—liver, egg yolk, dairy fats, organ meats, and brain— are especially high in cholesterol. Why? Liver is where the body manufactures cholesterol. Egg yolks contain concentrated cholesterol because the growing baby chick needs it to build new cells. Milk fat contains lots of cholesterol because the growing baby calf needs it to build new cells. Organ meats such as pancreas, kidney, contain more cholesterol because glands make hormones, and hormones are made from cholesterol. Brain contains very high amounts of cholesterol to insulate its electrical circuits. Plant foods do not contain any cholesterol.Cholesterol manufacture is also controlled by insulin levels in the blood. When people eat too many refined sugars and starches, blood insulin levels can spike (meat has sugar in it and all processed meat and junk food has a great deal). When insulin spikes, it tells all the body’s cells to make cholesterol, even if they don’t need any more. This is probably the most important reason why some people have too much cholesterol in their bloodstream. Low sugar  and low-carbohydrate diets lower the cholesterol making activity.

Refined carbohydrates speed up the cholesterol manufacture in the body. When you eat less carbohydrate, your body decides naturally when it should stop making cholesterol. In fact the chances are that if you have “high cholesterol” you do not have a cholesterol problem—you have a carbohydrate problem.Diets high in refined carbohydrate lower HDL levels and set the stage for high insulin levels and inflammation throughout the body, including in the coronary arteries.

Saturated fats, trans-fatty acids and foods  with a high glycemic index affect cholesterol levels. Food high in saturated fat are mainly animal products, such as meat, butter, lard, milk, cream, eggs. Foods that contain trans-fat are found in all commercial meats, commercial pastries, fried foods, cookies, snack foods, shortenings and margarines. In fact all junk foods. Best is to avoid all food from fast food chains.

The glycemic index gives us an idea of which foods raise our blood glucose fastest and highest. Obviously white sugar is the highest.  Most vegetables have low glycemic levels except potatoes. Milk and all dairy have high ones. How much cholesterol do we need to eat? NONE. The body can make cholesterol out of ANYTHING—fats, carbohydrates, or proteins.

Eat food. Don’t let it eat you. Become a true vegetarian.


Maneka Sanjay Gandhi


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