Despite the massive amount of research into how our diet affects our health and what is a healthy diet, there is still much that is not understood. For example, the link between dietary fat
intake and heart disease is far from clear. But the message we are given makes it sound so simple and clear-cut. Large amounts of fat in our diet increase blood cholesterol. High blood cholesterol is associated with heart disease. The latter point is known to be true but is high blood cholesterol related so conclusively, as we are led to believe, to what we eat? The relationship between diet and blood cholesterol is controversial and extremely complex and the arguments for and against this issue are outside the scope of this blog.
So what should we do? It is a question of being sensible about our diet. Eating an excess of anything will cause problems and a little bit of what you fancy will probably do you no harm. To become obsessive about what you eat can cause much distress and feelings of guilt. This could do more harm than the so-called unhealthy diet itself. Of course there are those, such as angina sufferers and heart attack victims, who may need to regulate their diet but for most of us strict rules may not be appropriate. However, everyone can benefit by taking the stress out of eating.
One of the main aims of the fight and flight reaction is to provide a quick and plentiful supply of energy for muscle activity by mobilizing fats and glucose stores. The level of blood fats, including cholesterol, and the level of blood glucose increases. During the alarm reaction, the levels of cholesterol and triglyceride (another type of fat) rise far more than they can from dietary sources. In fact, only about ten per cent of our cholesterol comes from the diet; the rest is made by the body. We described earlier, page 74, how levels of blood cholesterol rise during periods of stress. We used the example of tax accountants meeting deadlines to complete their clients’ tax returns. Try to remember this point when you feel pressured because if you are stressed you will have higher levels of cholesterol circulating in your blood than normal.
Remember also that increased blood cholesterol and fat levels are associated with coronary heart disease and increased susceptibility to blood clot formation. For angina sufferers and heart attack victims, one high-fat meal can lead to red cell sludging which can block the fine coronary blood vessels. The result could be a heart attack which may be fatal.
It is therefore wise to reduce your intake of fat, particularly saturated fat, so when your blood fat and cholesterol levels rise during stressful periods, there is less chance of them reaching potentially harmful peaks. Eating high-fat meals whilst you are under pressure and feeling stressed is therefore not to be recommended.
Another way of reducing blood fat is to eat more fibre. It works like this. Fats stick to the fibre, which is not absorbed by the body, so the amount of fat absorbed is also reduced. Be careful not to eat too much fibre (the recommended daily intake is 30 grams) because certain vitamins and minerals can also attach to fibre, so less of these will be absorbed into the body.