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The Good, the Bad and the Waistline: Why Your Cholesterol Levels Are Important 

The notion of “good” and “bad” fats has been in the public consciousness for some time. Saturated fat is seen as the “killer” issue – all other thing being equal, a high level of saturated fat in your diet is likely to lead to raised cholesterol levels. Raised cholesterol levels,  can in turn, lead to an increased risk of heart disease and other age related illnesses (including some cancers).

Solidified cholesterol manifests as gallstones, which can be extremely painful to get rid of. Cholesterol in solid form is also one of the common constituents of the accumulation in the veins that leads to ASVD (arteriosclerotic vascular disease, or hardening of the arteries).

The presence of solid cholesterol in the blood is not directly linked to the amount of cholesterol you consume, but to the levels of lipoproteins in your system. A lipoprotein is a form of enzyme, made from lipids and proteins, which helps your body emulsify fat.  There are five types, but we are only interested in two of them: HDL and LDL. HDL stands for High Density Lipoprotein; LDL for Low Density.  

HDL is a “good” lipoprotein. Its presence in the blood can indicate a raised ability to disassemble the fats you have consumed. LDL, on the other hand, is a “bad” lipoprotein, whose increased presence in the blood is often an indicator that a patient is at a higher risk of developing ageing diseases, high blood pressure and other vascular illnesses.

Higher levels of HDL, and low levels of LDL, are indicators that a person is dropping his or her cholesterol levels to a healthier figure. Indeed, where your LDL count is falling it may be the case that you can eat fatty foods of all descriptions with no obvious side effects. Weight continues to be lost and cholesterol levels continue to fall.

So the key question, then, is how you lower your LDL. There are different approaches that claim to deliver the effect – from a regular regime of fasting to something called the 5:2 diet, where you eat what you like for five days out of every seven, and restrict yourself to less than 600 calories on the other two days.

In all cases, the common factor is calorie restriction or food denial. The differences come in the severity of the restriction and the extremity of the denial.

A faster, for example, will take no food at all for up to five days in a row. Water is still consumed during this period. It’s thought that the fast kicks the body’s emergency processes in, helping it to begin repairing DNA.

DNA breakdown is one of the most worrying biological timebombs, and one we have seemingly little hopes of defusing. Simply put, when we get older, our DNA no longer has the imperative to survive intact until we have children. It begins, instead, to do some rather alarming things, some of which have direct implications on the health of the human body. This “rogue DNA” may be one of the contributing factors towards various cancers: it is certainly the reason why we tend to get more ill, more often, as we age.

At the root of all current advice is the same wisdom our mothers and our grandmothers instilled in us. You are what you eat. Taking less protein and fat, eating more vegetables and getting regular exercise are still, it seems, the way to a more active old age.

Ask Granny suggests looking at some useful links:

The 5:2 diet – an article by Dr Michael Mosley, who brought the science of fasting to public attention.

Discovery Health – advice on different proteins, such as soy.

Ask Granny – the online health and well-being guide for grandparents.