Confused over cholesterol? Can you say “NO cholesterol?” I knew you could, because most people can and do quite often in an average day .
This is one nutrition term America has down pat. Oddly enough, so do the food companies who plaster “No Cholesterol” on their packages of potato chips, bottles of vegetable oils, or cans of vegetable shortening.
I hate to break the news to everyone, but these foods never had cholesterol! But, they’ve always been (and still are) high in fat. Then again, there are those products, such as egg noodles, mayonnaise, eggs, or ice cream, that normally do contain cholesterol and now have no cholesterol alternatives.
Examples are “No Yolks” pasta or Mocha Mix, the second of which is still high in fat. So now that you’re totally confused, how can we tell the difference between “Cholesterol” claims on products that never had cholesterol and products that really have been modified?
And is this “No Cholesterol” stuff as important as everyone thinks it is?
There are actually two meanings for the word “choles-terol.” Dietary cholesterol is the amount of cholesterol in the food we eat, and serum cholesterol is the amount of cholesterol containing lipids (fats) swirling through our blood stream.
High serum cholesterol (the main contributor to the bad publicity on cholesterol) is one of the three most important controllable heart disease risk factors. The other two are cigarette smoking and high blood pressure.
Dietary cholesterol is just one of the many food constituents that help dictate our serum cholesterol levels. The others are high amounts of fat, saturated high fat, and excess calories. And out of all of
these, total fat is the main boogie man.
Experts agree that the major determinant of high serum cholesterol levels in otherwise normal people is the total amount of fat eaten. Thus, the most powerful way to reduce our serum cholesterol levels is to reduce the total amount of fat we eat especially saturated fat.
Plus by lowering the total amount of fat in our meal (and lowering our percent of calories from fat), we will most likely also lower the amount of saturated fat, excess calories, and dietary cholesterol.
Still, it’s a good idea to make a point of limiting the other constituents, namely cholesterol and saturated fat. And, as luck would have it, where there’s cholesterol, there’s saturated fat. Interestingly, it’s not necessarily vice versa: Sometimes there is saturated fat in non cholesterol foods, such as hydrogenated vegetable oils and coconut and palm oil, which are two naturally saturated vegetable oils.
You’ll find cholesterol in all animal foods (meats, dairy products, fish, and poultry) but egg yolks and organ meats have much more than their share. Just remember where there’s animal fat, there tends to be cholesterol. As the fat content goes down in a product containing cholesterol, so does the cholesterol content. A cup of whole milk, for example, has 35 milligrams of cholesterol and is 51 percent of calories from fat, while nonfat milk has 5 milligrams of cholesterol and is 5 percent calories from fat.
It’s true that we actually NEED cholesterol to form things like hormones and cell membranes in our bodies. But the human animal came prepared, and we actually produce this required cholesterol all by ourselves. So any cholesterol from the food we eat is extra.
What were our naturally “no cholesterol” options before food companies created no cholesterol eggs or mayonnaise? Vegetables, fruits, breads, cereals, grains, and legumes. But we tend to pour cheese or butter sauces over our pure and innocent vegetables, piop whipped cream on our fruits, spread gobs of cream cheese or butter on our bread (you get the picture), all of which add fat and cholesterol. Take white or whole wheat flour. Knead it with butter and milk, and voila! You’ve got your basic croissant, with 60 milligrams of cholesterol each and around 50 percent of calories from fat!
What do we do about these other cholesterol packed foods? First, keep in mind some are more packed than others. Obviously cholesterol-packed foods, such as egg yolks and organ meats, should be avoided or cut back when possible. And if you’re going to reach into that egg carton, keep your hands off the sour cream, cheese, bacon, butter, etc.
In their defense, let me just add that, per ounce, the fishies have a much lower calorie and fat content than your average slice of beef or pork. The serving size is usually smaller (around 2 ounces) for these foods too, compared with the three egg omelette or the 5-ounce T bone.
So, let’s review. What most of us have actually heard from scientific sources, about lowering our serum cholesterol levels applies to eating a low fat diet. Certainly eating less than 300 milligrams of cholesterol a day and limiting saturated fat is part of this lo -fat way of eating. Just because something doesn’t have cholesterol doesn’t mean it’s low in fat good for you. Many of the non dairy creamers, no cholesterol ice cream or egg substitutes have just as much fat as the regular rich items.