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The Skinny on Fat: How to Tell the Healthy from the Harmful
Blood Fats: The Fats Inside Our Bodies
Cholesterol: The Good (HDL) and the Bad (LDL)Now you know more about the fats you do and don't want to put into your body. It is equally useful to know a little about what fat does inside your body. Yes, fats are crucial to health, but clearly, they are also a danger.
Almost everyone has heard that cholesterol levels are important markers for our heart health, and that we need to pay attention to LDL, HDL, and total cholesterol. But why is one form of cholesterol good for us, and one bad?
The difference between HDL and LDL molecules is their relative densities: the actual name of HDL is high-density lipoprotein, and LDL stands for low-density lipoprotein. So, HDL and LDL are not actually cholesterol molecules themselves: instead, these two lipoprotein molecules help escort cholesterol molecules around the body, shunting them from place to place through the blood. The reason that LDL is thought to be "bad" is that it tends to allow cholesterol to build up on artery walls, leading to atherosclerosis (plaque build-up on the blood vessel walls), heart attack, and stroke.
On the other hand, experts believe that HDL lowers risk for heart disease because it directs cholesterol away from the arteries and towards the liver where it can then be removed from the body. This is why higher HDL levels are associated with decreased risk for heart attack and stroke, and lower HDL levels are linked to increased heart risk.
Cholesterol comes only from animal products (think high-fat foods like hamburgers, bacon, and cheese). The body actually makes about 75% of its own cholesterol(27), making the need to consume cholesterol virtually nonexistent.
The best way to lower LDL is to trim the fat (both in what you consume and by reducing excess body fat), exercise regularly as you are able, stop smoking, and eat cholesterol-lowering foods like whole grains. As mentioned, eating healthy fats like unsaturated fats, while avoiding saturated and trans fats is also an important way to help your body raise the HDL and lower LDL levels.
Blood Fats: TriglyceridesTriglycerides are another type of blood fat that we need to keep in check. These blood fats are a natural part of food metabolism, and the body stores energy from both fats and carbohydrates in triglyceride form(28). When energy is needed in between meals, the body uses hormones to signal the release of triglycerides from the fat cells so that they can be used for fuel.
When our energy intake becomes larger than our energy outflow (when we’re eating more calories than we’re burning), excess triglycerides can circulate in the blood, and are thought to contribute to the plaques that cause atherosclerosis (and, therefore, heart attack and stroke). High triglyceride levels are common in obesity and part of the metabolic syndrome, which includes high LDL levels, insulin resistance, and carrying too much weight around one’s waist. It is also a strong marker other conditions like diabetes.
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