The coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) and the imposed lockdowns in order to control te pandemic had a great impact on people’s lifestyles, especially their eating behaviours and physical activity. Even before that, fast food had become a way of life for not only children but people of all age groups.
Fast food refers to food that can be prepared and served quickly. It is popular because it tastes good, but it is not a healthy option, especially for those who do not exercise enough and have to watch their weight. This is because fast food usually includes refined grains instead of whole grains; it also contains saturated fat, cholesterol and added sugar. It can be high in sodium, which is used as a preservative and makes food more flavourful and satisfying. In addition, it is usually served with scrumptious sauces that make the food simply irresistible. Who doesn’t like burgers, batter-fried chicken with mounds of fries or even a pizza? But these are the very things that ought to be enjoyed in moderation. They are high in calories and bad for your cholesterol level.
Unfortunately, the confinement during Covid 19 curtailed even the normal physical activities of people. Work from home was what kept the wheel running, but it resulted in increased weight, protruding bellies and chubby faces. With nothing to do, people alleviated their boredom by ordering food and eating it in front of their television screens. Frequent consumption of fast food or even desi food, like nihari or biryani, resulted in elevated LDL “bad” cholesterol and triglyceride levels, two outcomes that most people with elevated cholesterol want to avoid.
What is cholesterol?
Have you ever heard the saying that too much of a good thing can turn bad? Well, folks, cholesterol is a perfect example. You see, a certain amount of cholesterol is absolutely necessary for us! It’s the excess, that puts us closer to our graves (excuse my bluntness, but it’s true). Chemically, it’s the combination of lipids (fat) and steroid and is produced in the liver. Its main function is to form the walls of the cell membrane and since our cells are what essentially make us work, you can guess its importance.
Where can you get it from?
Meat, poultry, fish and dairy products - so you know exactly what to avoid in case you are afflicted with the terror that is high cholesterol. Also, organ meats, especially liver are a major source. But remember, we need cholesterol, too, so don’t think you should give up on every food that contains cholesterol.
Types of cholesterol: the good - and the bad that can turn ugly
Now, there are two types of cholesterol: HDL and LDL. LDL is the one that one needs to really be scared of. This is the one that makes people sick and doctors rich. LDL cholesterol gets deposited on the artery walls and narrows the lumen of the arteries, a process called atherosclerosis. Anyway, this leads to complete blockage of the artery which puts a lot of pressure on the heart and leads to a heart attack.
HDL cholesterol on the other hand is the ‘good’ cholesterol; it actually extracts cholesterol from the artery walls and sends it back to the liver. The only problem is that once cholesterol plaques have formed on the walls, it’s a little difficult to get it back out, so it’s better if you avoid it in the first place.
What makes you high risk for a heart attack?
High risk patients are those who already have coronary heart disease (such as a prior heart attack), diabetes mellitus, abdominal aortic aneurysm, or those who already have atherosclerosis of the arteries to the brain and extremities (such as patients with strokes). Also, alcoholism, obesity, smoking, hypertension, and a family history of heart attacks definitely increase one’s chances.
Beating it - tips to fight excess cholesterol and heart disease
Losing excess weight: This one is a no brainer. Shedding extra pounds never really hurt anyone. Whether you do it through diet control or exercise, this is one thing that will always help you out.
Exercise: A lot of our adults leave the exercising for the oldies. Bad idea! One needs to exercise regularly, that too from an early age, to prevent cholesterol from depositing. Once you develop high cholesterol as more and more people in their 30s and 40s have started doing, getting it back down is tough.
A diet low in saturated fat and cholesterol rich food: Saturated fats are mostly found in dairy products (butter, ghee, etc.) and animal fats. You can’t stop eating these things, but moderation is the key.
Unsaturated fats are mostly plant oils like olive oil and canola oil. Replacing saturated with unsaturated fats in your diet definitely helps lowering your cholesterol.
Remember, your health comes first and it’s never too late to start taking care of yourself. So, get on your feet, locate the nearest treadmill or park or any area where you can exercise daily and start!