Cholesterol and Arterial Corruption

Purpose of Cholesterol

Cholesterol has many important functions in the human body. It forms the lining of every cell wall in the body as well as forming a protective coat (myelin sheath) around each of your peripheral nerves. Cholesterol is also the substrate from which the hormones testosterone, estrogen and cortisone are made. It is so important to our survival that our livers manufacture it. In fact, 75% of the cholesterol in our blood stream comes from the liver.

Low-Density Lipoproteins (LDL's)

Cholesterol is a waxy fat and blood is primarily water. As we know oil and water do not mix very well, the body makes a lipoprotein to help cholesterol become soluble in the blood. Low-density lipoproteins, LDL cholesterol, travel out from your liver to your body tissues which need it. High density lipoproteins, or HDL cholesterol, are like a "roto-rooter". They pick up cholesterol in the blood stream and cart it back to the liver where it is converted into bile and used for digestion.

Preventing Arterial Corruption

Arterial corruption, or atherosclerosis, starts as more LDL cholesterol is produced than the body can utilize. When serum cholesterol levels climb over 200 mg%, your risk of cardiovascular disease doubles. Researchers believe that LDL cholesterol becomes oxidized and embedded in arterial walls. The occlusion of coronary vessels can result in a heart attack; the occlusion of cerebral vessels can result in a stroke.

Fortunately, atherosclerosis can be prevented and reversed. A diet low in total fat, especially saturated fats, combined with aerobic exercise can lower LDL cholesterol and increase HDL cholesterol. The higher your HDL cholesterol levels, the greater your protection from atherosclerosis.

We have already discussed steps in lowering your total fat intake. Now it is time to discuss lowering your intake of saturated fats.

Saturated and Unsaturated Fats

Any food has a combination of two basic types of fats: saturated and unsaturated. Space restricts a heavy biochemical discussion here; so it is best to define them in terms of their state at room temperature. Saturated fats are solid and unsaturated fats are liquid at room temperature. No one food is totally one kind of fat or another, but your eyes can tell you the major type of fat present in the food. For example, butter is solid at room temperature, therefore it is mainly saturated. Olive oil, on the other hand is liquid, hence unsaturated.

The fat in food is a little trickier, but follows the same rule of thumb. Beef fat is very hard at room temperature while fish fat is gel like. This is because beef fat has more saturated fats than fish.

Finding cholesterol in foods is easier because only animals can make it. Therefore, you will only find cholesterol in animal foods or foods made with animal products. Contrary to the marketing messages on certain food labels, foods like peanut butter and olive oil have always been and always will be "cholesterol-free".

Fat and Cholesterol

Researchers recommend we limit our intake of saturated fat to less than a third of our total fat intake and cholesterol to less than 300 milligrams per day. Take a look at the table below which ranks the saturated fat and cholesterol content of various foods:


 % Saturated Fats

 1 Tbs Safflower Oil  9 0 mg
 1 Tbs Olive Oil  14 0 mg
 3 oz Tuna  19 55 mg
 3 oz Chicken  28 73 mg
 1 ea Egg  30 220 mg
 3 oz Pork  35 79 mg
 3 oz Beef  38 74 mg
 3 oz Lamb  41 80 mg
 1 cup Whole Milk  62 33 mg
 1 Tbs Butter  62 9 mg
 1 Tbs Coconut Oil  87 0 mg

This table shows the wisdom of choosing more chicken and fish instead of red meats. The same goes for choosing low-fat or non-fat dairy products. This is not to say we should avoid these foods entirely; just choose them less often.

Increase Fiber Intake

Another step in lowering cholesterol levels is to increase your intake of soluble fiber. The fiber in oats, beans, fruits and vegetables forms a gel in your intestines which binds to bile. This prevents your body from recycling bile and more cholesterol is utilized in making new bile for digestion. This helps lower serum cholesterol levels.

Dietary Steps

In short, these dietary steps will help lower serum cholesterol and prevent atherosclerosis: First, lower total fat to 30% or less of calories. Second, choose foods which are low in saturated fats and cholesterol. Third, eat more cereals, fruits and vegetables which are rich in soluble fiber.

Remember, lowering your serum cholesterol level by 15 mg% will drop your risk of coronary artery disease by one third. The effort is worth it. So are you.

Tips For Cutting Back on Cholesterol

  • Trim all the visible fat from beef, lamb, pork and poultry.
  • Some lean cuts of meat are flank steak, round steak, rump roast leg of lamb and pork tenderloin
  • Need a reason to remove the skin from poultry? The skin of a chicken has 1200 calories. The entire naked (shivering) chicken has 800.
  • Bake, broil or grill meats and fish. Use vinegar or wine as a marinade instead of oil. Their acids break down the connective tissue which makes meats tough.
  • Use chicken broth with a touch of sesame oil for stir frying Sesame oil has a lot of flavor, so a little bit goes a long way.
  • Egg substitutes are simply egg whites with yellow food coloring. Skip the expense and use 2 egg whites to replace one egg.
  • Evaporated skim milk is a great substitute for cream.
  • Try reducing the fat in muffins and cakes by substituting fruit juice concentrates or yogurt.
  • Fat-free cheeses have a way to go before they start tasting like "real" cheese. However, low-fat cheeses are great for casseroles, enchiladas and tacos.
  • Try some of the "Healthy Choice" entrees and luncheon meats. They are low in sodium and fat.


1. Did you trim all the visible fat from meats, chicken and fish?

2. Did you substitute low-fat dairy foods for the high fat choices?

3. Did you choose leaner sandwich meats?

4. Did you increase your intake of fruits and vegetables?

5. Name three foods low in saturated fats?

Material © San Franisco Spine Center. Used by Permission.

Updated on: 09/07/12