When former President Bill Clinton entered a New York hospital in 2004 for an emergency heart surgery, media reports indicated that cholesterol was the bandit that nearly robbed him of his life.
“Eating too many foods that are high in trans fat and saturated fat can lead to some serious health problems,” said Elizabeth Borger, an advanced registered nurse practitioner at the Integrative Healthcare Clinic in Tallahassee. “Some of the things we test patients for are for low-density lipoprotein, high density lipoproteins and the total cholesterol.”
According to the American Diabetes Association, LDL cholesterol is considered bad cholesterol and HDL cholesterol is considered good cholesterol because of the differences the two have on the body’s blood flow.
While most people may understand the importance of blood flow, the role cholesterol plays in maintaining a healthy body is often misunderstood.
“All I know is that cholesterol comes from eating too many fat, juicy cheeseburgers and a lot of fries,” said Anthony Colston, 23, a senior business administration student from Chicago. “But as young people, we tend to tune out when physicians talk about what junk foods do to our bodies.”
According to the National Diabetic Association, much of the junk food college students eat, especially from animal sources, is loaded with fats. Foods like ice cream, cheese and eggs come with a heavy amount of cholesterol.
The body produces cholesterol because it is needed to build cell walls and some hormones, the NDA states.
When you have too much cholesterol in your body, it can generally lead to the hardening of the arteries because the cholesterol is often deposited on the arteries’ walls, forming what medical experts call plaque.
That, Borger said, puts a person at risk for heart disease. “Not only that, those fats can lead to high blood pressure,” Borger said.
“The bottom line is this: it’s extremely important to have a healthy diet.”
For some students, junk foods, filled with lots of saturated fats, is a way of life.
“It’s true that I don’t pay much attention to all of these warnings about heart problems and high blood pressure associated with cholesterol intake,” said Derek Washington, 21, a senior history education student from Fort Pierce. “However, it’s scary to think people my age could develop high cholesterol if we don’t watch what we eat.”
Research by the National Diabetes Education Program shows that blacks and Hispanics are twice as likely to develop cholesterol-related illnesses as other race groups.
Based on its research, NDEP states the two groups have dietary habits that include foods that are highly concentrated with trans fats and saturated fats.
Borger said genetics also plays a major role.
“It’s important to know your family’s medical history so that you can prevent yourself from acquiring high cholesterol in the future,” she said. “It’s just a simple fact of genetic predisposition of being more prone to having high cholesterol.”Groups like NDEP, ADA and the American Heart Association want people to understand that while it may be difficult for people to totally erase fatty junk foods from their diets, there are some things that can and should be done to prevent the onslaught of serious health problems associated with high cholesterol intake.
Borger recommends that everyone change his or her diet so that it includes more fruits and vegetables. She also said that baked foods are much healthier and so is using liquid vegetable oil instead of margarine, butter or shortening. “You are what you eat,” Borger said.
She also said exercise and physical activity tends to lower the chance of developing heart disease.