Most of us know that elevated blood cholesterol levels are the strongest risk factor for coronary artery disease, and dietary excess of saturated fats is its largest contributor.
Wait a minute. Contrary to common belief, the contribution of dietary cholesterol to blood cholesterol is small.
It’s in your oil
Most vegetable cooking oils are low in saturated fats and are “heart healthy.” The significant exception is tropical oils, such as coconut and palm oil, which are very rich in saturated fats. Though the two may not contain cholesterol, and have a cholesterol-raising potential similar to, or higher, than most animal fats, experts say their use should be restricted.
Heating a cooking oil will make it saturated is another point. All oils oxidise and hydrogenate to some degree, when repeatedly heated to very high temperatures such as is done in commercial frying operations. There are exceptions. Olive pomace oil and virgin olive oil are both highly monounsaturated oils and, therefore, resistant to oxidation and hydrogenation. Also, studies have shown that oxidation and hydrogenation occur to a lesser extent in olive oil than in other oils.
Fact vs fiction
There are also certain aspects of heart disease prevention plans that spur the mind. We know we should eat a balanced diet rich in fruits and vegetables, exercise regularly and, of course, not smoke. But, certain views are conflicting, so it is imperative to discern fact from fiction.
Cholesterol causes heart disease. This myth may never go away. There are strong indications that low HDL [“good”] cholesterol is related to an increase in heart disease. This is common in people with low total cholesterol readings, not high cholesterol. Eating a low cholesterol diet does not reduce blood cholesterol, because the liver simply produces more of it. Low cholesterol increases the risk of cerebral haemorrhage [stroke], gallbladder disease, and many types of cancers. However, more than cholesterol, it’s the lipoprotein [a], a protein-lipid component, and homocysteine [a chemical compound] levels that are important risk factors of heart disease.
Desi ghee is bad for the heart. Desi ghee is rich in saturated fatty acids and cholesterol. Bad? Not really, because it also contains a substantial amount of monounsaturated oils and is a rich source of vitamin A. It is not harmful when taken in small quantities, say half or one teaspoon a day.
Nuts are fattening. That you should not eat them, if you want to lose weight and/or suffer from cardiovascular disease, is a popular notion. Nuts are high in calories and fat, but most nuts contain healthy fats that do not “clog” the arteries. They are also a good source of protein, dietary fibre, and minerals, including magnesium and copper. They can easily be a part of weight loss programmes, but only when consumed in moderation.