16 July 2019
The public should continue to consume healthy food while being aware of the different types of cholesterol and their effects on the body. Photo: Reuters
The public should continue to consume healthy food while being aware of the different types of cholesterol and their effects on the body. Photo: Reuters

Why we should stay mindful of our cholesterol intake

Cholesterol has been shedding its bad reputation as a health risk since the US federal government released its latest dietary guidelines, in which there is no more recommended maximum level of cholesterol intake.

On social media, when the discussion revolves around health and food, it has become common to read comments like “Cholesterol is bad for the health? That’s a big fat lie!” or “There is no such thing as bad cholesterol” or “Cholesterol doesn’t clog up your blood vessels.”

Regardless of this new perception, medical data confirms that the level of cholesterol in the blood is associated with increased risk of developing cardiovascular diseases.

The fact is, advising people to cut their cholesterol intake is simply too general. The public should be aware that there are different categories of cholesterol – unsaturated fat, saturated fat and trans fat.

Unsaturated fat increases good cholesterol (HDL-C) and lowers bad cholesterol (LDL-C), making it good for the body.

Saturated fat is bad for the heart. It increases the level of bad cholesterol and leads to a higher risk of developing heart diseases or having a stroke.

Among the three types of cholesterols, trans fat is the most neglected. It is a product of the hydrogenation of vegetable oil. Trans fat increases bad cholesterol and lowers good cholesterol.

There is sufficient amount of medical data showing that bad cholesterol increases the risk of cardiovascular diseases, stroke and even death. Most vulnerable are those who have had a stroke, heart disease, kidney disease or diabetes; they should stay alert to their body condition.

Diet has about 30 percent of influence on one’s cholesterol level. Other factors include race, genetics, metabolic rate and habits such as smoking, drinking and lack of exercise.

Diseases such as kidney disease, diabetes, hypothyroidism and hepatitis can also affect the cholesterol level.

We should watch our diet and avoid excessive bad cholesterol and calorie intake.

Although there is no longer a ceiling for cholesterol intake in the latest US dietary guidelines, consumers should make wise decisions when planning their meals and snacks. They should replace butter, lard and coconut oil with canola oil and corn oil as a way to lower the intake of saturated fat or trans fat.

Adopt a “low fat and less oil” diet by stir-frying, steaming and boiling. Read the labels and check the amounts of saturated fat and trans fat in a prepackaged food before buying.

Among the many causes of high cholesterol level, diet is one that we can control. If we are mindful of the food we eat and we exercise regularly, we can avoid taking cholesterol-lowering medication.

Unless the cholesterol level remains unchanged, patients must receive medical treatment. Statins are first-line cholesterol-lowering drugs that give significant results.

Some patients have to take other oral tablets such as fenofibrate or receive PCSK9 injection to manage their health.

If you have high cholesterol levels, consult your doctor to find the most suitable treatment.

This article appeared in the Hong Kong Economic Journal on May 3

Translation by John Chui

[Chinese version 中文版]

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Specialist in endocrinology, diabetes & metabolism

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