Sugar and kind of fat in food most important to watch for: Dietitian
Staying away from prawns for fear of raising your cholesterol level?
While cholesterol is indeed present in the food we eat, most of the cholesterol floating in our blood is actually made in the liver.
Therefore, it is a complete myth that elderly people have to avoid eggs and seafood, for instance, said registered dietitian Ujjwala Baxi, founder of nutrition consultancy Poshan - Cure thru Diet.
"The most important thing to consider is the amount of sugar and the kind of fat that the food contains, rather than its cholesterol level."
People with high cholesterol levels need not strictly avoid foods like prawns, lobsters and egg yolks - just do not eat large amounts of them, she said. Eggs, for instance, contain nutrients like lutein and zeaxanthin, which are good for the eyes.
There are also seafood options that are beneficial to the heart. Shellfish is naturally low in fat, said Ms Ujjwala. "The quality of the meal can be improved by using different cooking methods, such as boiling, broiling and steaming. So if you enjoy eating seafood, you don't need to be deprived."
However, it is wise to be more vigilant about foods that are high in trans fat. This type of fat is found in hydrogenated oil or partially hydrogenated vegetable oil products.
Palm oil, for example, can be hydrogenated - a process where hydrogen is added to make them more solid - so it is more suitable for certain confectionery items.
But prolonged consumption of high amounts of trans fat may lead to elevated cholesterol levels and can cause arteries to narrow and harden.
"Baked goods and most of the processed foods found at supermarkets, as well as fast-food meals, contain hidden trans fat," said Ms Ujjwala.
The better alternatives are olive oil and canola oil, which are made of monounsaturated fat and do not undergo hydrogenation.
Meanwhile, many processed food products that are labelled as "low fat" might not necessarily be good for the heart.
Sugar is usually added to compensate for the missing fat, noted Ms Ujjwala. One may also find corn syrup and other artificial substances on the ingredient list, she added.
While saturated fat has been blamed for many ailments, some products may have benefits.
Coconut oil, which has saturated fat, is said to help raise the level of "good" cholesterol in the body, added Ms Ujjwala. This is known as high-density lipoprotein (HDL).
"Cholesterol has gotten a bad name over the years and there are many misconceptions regarding it," she said.
"As we age, we need to ensure that the concentrations of good and bad cholesterol in our blood match the desirable levels to support efficient cardiac health."
Source: The Straits Times © Singapore Press Holdings Limited. Reproduced with permission.