Cholesterol is an essential nutrient

Do you think of mostly negative effects when you think about fat?

Fat is good for your health

Sad enough when you consider that fat is an essential nutrient that we cannot live without. It is only in the last few years that numerous voices have been heard that approach the nutrient with new aspects and attribute positive effects to it. And not only that - they free him from the enduring image of evil and the reputation of being detrimental to health. The history of our dietary recommendations in Germany goes back a long time. It was and is shaped by the recommendations of the German Nutrition Society (DGE), which was founded in 1955. It creates official guidelines, the validity of which is hardly questioned. They have established themselves as the top priority in many areas such as nutritional advice, health insurance benefits or parts of specialist literature. These are directives with implications for the food industry and politics. Drastically changing such recommendations cannot happen overnight in a power structure with different interests and political constraints. It would be desirable - for health (1)!

Fats represent the largest reservoir of energy in the human organism

Fats are supplied to your body through food in the form of triglycerides. The molecules of the triglycerides consist of the alcohol glycerine and 3 fatty acids (2). Some of the fatty acids can be produced by the body itself. However, there are also those that are essential for the body (vital) and that must be supplied through food. As a carrier of flavors and aromas, fat is partly responsible for the good taste of many dishes. Fats represent the largest reservoir of energy in the human organism - even in slim athletes. But in addition to the pleasure factor and energy supply, fat takes on other vital functions in the organism. It is the carrier substance for the fat-soluble vitamins A, D, E and K (2). These vitamins can only be absorbed by the body with the help of fat in the bloodstream. The absorption of these vitamins is therefore only possible with the simultaneous consumption of fats. With the ingestion of dietary fat, essential fats also get into the body. In addition, the subcutaneous fatty tissue acts as protection against the cold and it also serves as a cushion and support e.g. B. on the kidneys and on the soles of the feet.

Saturated fats - no risk of cardiovascular disease

Fat is healthy

Not all fat is the same6, so it is particularly important here that the quality is decisive for fats. A distinction is made between saturated and unsaturated fatty acids. Saturated fatty acids are usually ingested in large quantities with food (2). They are not essential, which means that the organism is able to build them up on its own. Food of animal origin such as B. cream, lard, meat or sausage products are rich in saturated fatty acids. This fact in itself is not unusual. Animal and vegetable fats always contain saturated and unsaturated fats in variable proportions. Contrary to popular belief, naturally saturated fatty acids are also very valuable for your organism.

The well-known division into “good” fats and “bad” fats: Above all, the saturated fatty acids have been assessed negatively over the years. High consumption has been linked to poor blood lipid levels. In its 2006 fat guideline, the DGE had to admit that this is a misjudgment. In fact, only three saturated fatty acids, lauric, myristic, and palmitic acids are able to raise blood cholesterol. The majority of all saturated fatty acids do not affect cholesterol levels. The three that can raise the "bad" LDL cholesterol do so especially when a lot of sugar and starch are eaten at the same time. In addition, they increase cholesterol and thereby increase both the “bad” LDL cholesterol and the “cheap” HDL cholesterol. The bottom line is that the ratio of the two cholesterols remains the same. Since HDL cholesterol can protect against heart and vascular diseases, there is no increase in risk (3). They also lower triglycerides (blood lipids). In this context, a more meaningful parameter than LDL cholesterol as a risk factor for cardiovascular diseases is the ratio of triglycerides to HDL cholesterol. Triglycerides too high and HDL cholesterol too low are typical of millions of people who are overweight and have a sedentary lifestyle. In addition, LDL cholesterol is not bad per se. The particles of LDL cholesterol can be large and fluffy and are therefore harmless to health. However, they can also become small and dense and are then dangerous for the blood vessels. So here it is not only the quantity that has to be assessed, but also the quality.

Beware of trans fats

It should be noted that people who eat a lot of saturated fatty acids have no changed risk of heart or brain infarction compared to people who eat less. The majority of long-term studies have come to this conclusion. In contrast, the trans fatty acids are to be assessed as a health risk. As unsaturated fatty acids, however, they differ structurally from the natural unsaturated fatty acids. Trans fatty acids are created during industrial partial hardening. They are the real culprits. They increase LDL cholesterol, lower HDL cholesterol, promote inflammation and disrupt the function of the blood vessel walls (1). Lumping these industrially produced fats together with the natural fatty acids and natural trans fatty acids does not make sense, however. They cannot be compared in their effect on the organism!

Trans fatty acids are suspected of damaging blood vessels by increasing LDL cholesterol and promoting arteriosclerotic changes. They arise during the industrial hardening and partial hardening of vegetable oils, which makes them spreadable and more durable. Trans fatty acids are found in large quantities in fast food products, ready meals, in many fried products and low-quality margarines. Also in baked goods such as B. puff pastry they may be included if partially hydrogenated fats were used (2).

Some examples are: French fries, cookies, chips, ready-made sauces or cocktail sauces.

When shopping, make sure that you do not take any products with “hydrogenated fats” on the list of ingredients. Even if the proportion of trans fatty acids in margarines has been significantly reduced in recent years, you should give preference to butter, which does not contain any trans fatty acids (2).

Also beneficial to health - unsaturated fatty acids

Despite many inconsistencies in matters of fat, the need for research in science and the need for education among the population, there are at least two points of agreement: Fats, for which the data is more informative and more uniform, are the polyunsaturated omega-3 fatty acids. The omega-3 fatty acids EPA and DHA, which are most common in mackerel, salmon, herrings and sardines, provide convincing data for a protective effect on the heart and blood vessels. However, here, too, the objection is that clear protective effects could only be found in people who already had a low intake (1). Unsaturated fatty acids are again divided into monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fatty acids. Unsaturated fatty acids are also ingested with food, whereby the organism can also produce monounsaturated fatty acids from saturated fatty acids.

An example of a monounsaturated fatty acid is oleic acid. Olive and rapeseed oils are rich in monounsaturated fatty acids. The essential fatty acids include omega-6 fatty acids and omega-3 fatty acids. They are also known as n-6 and n-3 fatty acids6. Polyunsaturated fatty acids are very valuable for the organism and should be taken in through food. They have additional biological effects: Polyunsaturated fatty acids, especially the n-6 fatty acids, actively lower the cholesterol level in the blood. In addition, n-3 fatty acids improve the flow properties of the blood, increase HDL cholesterol and thus have a preventive effect against deposits in the blood vessels1. They influence the immune system and inhibit inflammatory reactions. Vegetable oils and fats such as sunflower, corn germ and soybean oil have a high proportion of n-6 fatty acids (e.g. linoleic acid). Rapeseed, walnut, soy and linseed oils are good sources of n-3 fatty acids (e.g. α-linoleic acid). Longer chain n-3 fatty acids such as B. eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) or docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) are mainly found in high-fat fish such as herring, mackerel or salmon (2).

How dangerous is cholesterol?

Cholesterol is found in foods of animal origin. The human organism needs cholesterol because it performs important functions. We would not be able to survive without cholesterol. Our organism is able to synthesize cholesterol independently in the liver (4) and produces around one to one and a half grams every day. Cholesterol is the main component of cell membranes, it functions as the starting substance for bile acid and steroid hormones such as aldosterone, cortisone, testosterone and estradiol as well as for vitamin D. A distinction is made between HDL cholesterol (high density lipoprotein) and LDL cholesterol (low density lipoprotein). Because of its properties, LDL cholesterol is also known as “bad cholesterol” and HDL cholesterol as “good cholesterol”. Too high LDL cholesterol levels and too low HDL cholesterol levels lead to lipid metabolism disorders (4). These in turn are related to the development of arteriosclerosis and heart attacks. For a long time, dietary cholesterol was also considered a health hazard. Too high an intake should have a negative effect on blood lipid levels. In most cases, high cholesterol does not come from the cholesterol in food. Appropriate disposition makes him rise. The same goes for overeating, obesity, metabolic disorders and lack of exercise. He certainly doesn't come from eating eggs! The cholesterol content of the food is practically irrelevant for healthy people! Scientific studies have also found no connection between egg consumption and the risk of heart attacks or strokes (3).

Fat info

Diversity is the trump card at Fetten. Numerous oils such as walnut oil, linseed oil and hemp oil have excellent fatty acid profiles and are very suitable for salad dressings. Always buy oils in manageable quantities and in dark bottles. If necessary, store it in the refrigerator.

It is important: The ratio of linoleic acid (omega-6 fatty acid) to α-linoleic acid (omega-3 fatty acid) should be 5: 1. In principle, the following applies: the more liquid a fat is, the higher the proportion of unsaturated fatty acids. Rapeseed oil with 50% unsaturated fatty acids in profile is much thinner than coconut oil, for example. It contains 90% saturated fatty acids. Therefore it is solid at room temperature and can be kept for up to two years. From 25 ° C coconut fat melts and is therefore called coconut oil in its warm homeland. Lauric acid, the most important saturated fatty acid in coconut oil in terms of quantity, increases HDL cholesterol like no other fatty acid. It has an antibacterial effect and rarely causes allergies. The cold-pressed coconut fat is delicate and natural. It is also known as virgin coconut oil (3).

Your Hanna Sandig

  1. Gonder & Worm (2011). More fat - why we need more fat to be healthy and slim. Lünen: Systemed Verlag
  2. Dickau, Kirsten (2004). The nutrients - building blocks for your health. Bonn: German Society for Nutrition
  3. Gonder, Ulrike, Lemberger, Heike & Worm, Nikolai (2012). Fat guide. How Much Fat is Healthy? Which fat for what? Lünen: Systemed Verlag
  4. Swiss Journal of Nutritional Medicine, 2008, Vol. 4, pp. 30-33