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Heart smarts.

Heart Smarts

If you're more than two years old, chances are you eat too much saturated fat and cholesterol. Both increase the cholesterol level in your blood, which raises your risk of heart disease, the No. 1 killer in the United States and Canada.

CSPI's new "Cholesterol Scoreboard" can help. For the first time, you can tell how much one serving of any food will raise or lower blood cholesterol levels compared to any other food.

Use the "Scoreboard" to reduce your cholesterol by substituting foods with lower scores for foods with higher scores.

It's impossible to predict how much a food will raise or lower your cholesterol from where it is now. That's because so much depends on your genes and on what you currently eat. But you can tell how foods stack up against each other, and how they have contributed to your current cholesterol level.

And that's just what we've done in the "Cholesterol Scoreboard."

The more saturated fat and cholesterol a food contains, the higher its score...and the more it will raise your blood cholesterol level. For example: a Taco Bell Double Beef Burrito (score = 5.4) will raise your cholesterol twice as much as two slices of Domino's Cheese Pizza (score = 2.7).

Some foods, such as nuts and vegetable oils, have negative scores, because their polyunsaturated fats actually lower blood cholesterol. But that's not a license to gorge yourself on them. Diets high in any kind of fat promote obesity and colon and breast cancer. Just keep an eye on the column that lists "Fat." The lower the number, the better.

As a general rule, low-fat foods like fruits, vegetables, beans, breads, and cereals are better than fatty foods with negative numbers.

Low-fat foods with scores at or slightly above zero can actually lower cholesterol, if you eat them instead of foods with higher scores.

What's more, a few foods (beans and oats, for example) have enough soluble fiber to lower your cholesterol further than is indicated by their scores. We've marked these foods with a *.

The Formula. The formula we used was derived by Joseph Anderson of the University of Minnesota and confirmed in later studies.1,2 It is based on studies conducted in the mid-1960s by his colleague, Ancel Keys.

The score represents how much a food would raise or lower the cholesterol of a person whose diet contained no cholesterol-raising (or lowering) foods at all. In other words, if all you ate were rice, eating a food with a score of 2 would raise your blood cholesterol level by 2 points.

But we don't all start from a neutral diet, so eating four ounces of roast chicken breast without skin (2.2) for dinner tonight will not necessarily increase your cholesterol by 2.2 points. It will probably raise it less than that. It all depends on what the chicken replaces in your diet. If you live on Quarter Pounders with Cheese, eating chicken breast would actually lower your cholesterol.

Knowing that chicken has a score of 2.2 tells you something else. It helps explain how your cholesterol got to where it is now. Though chicken is a relatively good food, it probably did raise your cholesterol higher than your "base" level. That level (probably 150 for the average person) reflects only the amount of cholesterol your body is "programmed" to make on its own.

Stearic Acid & Monounsaturates. The formula treats all saturated fats as equals, even though one type (stearic acid) doesn't raise cholesterol levels.

That's why the scores probably slightly overestimate the rise in cholesterol caused by beef and chocolate (whose saturated fat is high in stearic acid), and why they probably underestimate the rise in cholesterol caused by dairy products and palm oil (whose saturated fat is low in stearic acid).

But omitting stearic acid from the calculations makes only a trivial difference--a fraction of a point, at most.

Also, monounsaturated fat--which may lower the risk of heart disease--isn't in the equation. That's because monos don't raise (or lower) cholesterol. But they could lower your cholesterol if, for example, you switch from a saturated fat like butter (3.9) to a monounsaturated fat like olive oil (0.5).

One final point: the scores are less accurate for people whose cholesterol levels are higher or lower than average because of their genes.

In calculating the scores, fat and cholesterol content was obtained from either the USDA (generic foods) or from the manufacturers (most brand-name foods). Fatty acid levels for about a dozen foods were analyzed by Dr. Frank Sacks of Harvard Medical School. Fat or cholesterol levels for a few foods were estimated from ingredient listings.

Table : Heart Smarts: CSPI'S Cholesterol Scoreboard
COPYRIGHT 1989 Center for Science in the Public Interest
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1989, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

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Title Annotation:lowering saturated fat and cholesterol
Author:Liebman, Bonnie
Publication:Nutrition Action Healthletter
Date:Jun 1, 1989
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