General Health Friday June 15, 2012

Thin now but risk high cholesterol later

According to research conducted in Sweden, an increase in the number of people with cholesterol is largely due to a diet trend that's become popular over the last decade in Sweden. The diet trends in question were low carbohydrate and high fat or LCHF diets, which discourage the consumption of sugars or starch but encourage the intake of fats.

Research has shown that these types of diets don't provide drastically different results from diets that are low in fat and higher in carbohydrates, plus it also increases a person's risk of cholesterol, which isn't really surprising. However, many people are quite desperately looking for a quick fix to help us lose weight, without thinking of the long-term health consequences. We'd rather be thin now than worry about the adverse consequences of our dieting.

So what would one of these diets involve? Diets such as the Atkins diet discourage the consumption of foods high in sugar such as soft drinks, potatoes and flour and encourage eating foods high in saturated fats, however not trans fats. Admittedly many experts feel that there is some weight loss benefit to following a diet such as this, but it mostly tends to be short-term and most people experience a plateau in their weight after a while. The reason that these diets work is simply because a person following it is largely cutting down on the amount of calories they consume, which logically does result in weight loss.

Eventually though, the benefits of losing weight starts to be outbalanced by an influx of saturated fat, which is a known cause of bad cholesterol. However, these types of diets don't just carry a risk of increasing 'bad cholesterol' that could lead to atherosclerosis (below illustration), they can also increase the risk of colon cancer as they don't encourage the consumption of fibre, which is necessary to maintain a healthy digestive system.

Something such as cholesterol is particularly difficult to worry about when you are young and are faced with pressures to be thin and healthy, but obviously being thin isn't always healthy. You can be really thin, exercise frequently and have no other health complications and still have high cholesterol, simply because you inherited genes that make your body produce higher LDL levels than normal.

Often we wrongfully assume that weight loss and health is the same thing, when in fact many of the different things we do to lose weight can be bad for us, such as cutting out whole food groups, starving ourselves, doing too much exercise, eating too much of a particular type of food group or consuming too little calories for our bodies to function properly. It's easy to just to focus on weight when attempting to be healthy, but weight isn't always the best way to measure your progress, as a person with a normal weight may be carrying harmful visceral fat around their stomach or a muscular person may way more than is assumed healthy for their height. Ultimately we should aim to be healthy and fit and not just focus on immediate quick fixes.

If you are worried about your cholesterol, even if you are young, you should speak to your doctor about doing a cholesterol test or consider doing a home cholesterol test.

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