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Fats in your blood

To live long, study Dracula’s favorite topic: blood. 40% of all American deaths are caused by blood problems: heart disease, heart attacks, and strokes. Yes, the chance is 2 out of 5 you’ll be killed by a blood problem, if you’re a typical American. You’re more likely to be killed by a blood problem than by any other deadly category (such as cancer, disease, accidents, murders, or war). If you’re a woman, your chance of dying from a blood problem is 8 times greater than dying from breast cancer.

Journalists pay less attention to “blood problems” than exciting topics such as “breast cancer,” “flu,” “seat belts,” “terrorists,” and “military operations,” since “blood” discussions can get technical. Here’s a lesson in blood chemistry, so you’ll live longer.…


Most blood problems are caused by a huge molecule called cholesterol, containing 74 atoms (C27H46O).

Cholesterol is a lipid (fatty substance) that your body uses to create & repair cells walls and create sex hormones (estrogen and testosterone), but here’s the problem:

If an artery gets blocked, so blood can’t flow, you’ll have a heart attack (if the artery goes to the heart) or an ischemic stroke (if the artery goes to the brain). An artery can get blocked by having too much cholesterol in your blood, since the excess cholesterol forms plaque in your artery walls. That plaque can build up, and a piece of that plaque can break off, float downstream, get stuck somewhere, and form a dam, blocking the artery.

Typical American blood contains way too much cholesterol.

The ideal blood contains under 100 milligrams of cholesterol per deciliter of blood (100 mg/dl). Any cholesterol over 100 increases your chance of heart disease.

Most doctors try to keep their patients’ cholesterol under 200, since anything over 200 is super-dangerous.

In the US, the average person’s cholesterol is unfortunately 220. Some Americans even have cholesterol above 300, making them prime candidates for sudden heart attacks, strokes, and death.


Most fats in foods are triglycerides (3 fatty acids attached to a glycerol molecule).


Since cholesterol is a fatty substance (lipid), cholesterol doesn’t mix with water. Therefore, cholesterol doesn’t mix with blood (which is mostly water).

To let your blood transport cholesterol, your liver creates a package called a lipoprotein, which contains lipids (cholesterol, triglycerides, and phospholipids) attached to proteins. The lipoprotein package does mix with water; it does mix with blood.

If a lipoprotein contains more proteins than lipids,

it’s called a high-density lipoprotein (HDL).

If a lipoprotein contains less protein than lipids,

it’s called a low-density lipoprotein (LDL).

LDL is bad, because if it contains more cholesterol than your body needs, it deposits the excess cholesterol onto artery walls. HDL is good, because it carries excess cholesterol away from your body tissues and returns it to your liver for reprocessing or excreting.

So LDL is called bad lipoprotein or, in looser jargon for idiots, bad cholesterol. HDL is called good lipoprotein or, in looser jargon, good cholesterol.

LDL is lousy.

HDL is healthy, heavenly.


The government recommends you follow these standards:

Keep your total cholesterol below 200.

Keep your LDL below 130. If you have other risk factors for heart disease, compensate by getting your LDL down to 100.

Keep your HDL above 40 if male, 50 if female.

(The old standard was 35, but the new standard is higher.)

Keep your triglycerides below 150 (when measured after fasting 12 hours).

4 goals

You have 4 goals so far:

Reduce   the total amount of cholesterol in your blood.

Reduce   the amount of LDL (bad lipoprotein).

Increase the amount of HDL (good lipoprotein).

Reduce   the triglycerides.

Here’s how to start accomplishing them.…

To reduce total cholesterol, eat less cholesterol. Cholesterol is just in animal products, not plants. The foods that are highest in cholesterol are shrimp, egg yolks, and organ meats (such as liver and kidneys). Some cholesterol is also in other meat, fish, and dairy products.

Also eat less fat in general, since they are triglycerides, and since your liver turns much of the fat into cholesterol. Eating less fat is more important than eating less cholesterol, since most of your blood’s cholesterol comes from the fat you eat. Eating less fat in general also reduces your LDL.

To increase your HDL, get more exercise. The more exercise you get, the higher your HDL count will get.

Kinds of fatty acids

I said that the most common food fats are triglycerides, which contain three fatty acids attached to a glycerol molecule. Those fatty acids can come in two forms: saturated or unsaturated.

Saturated=bad Saturated fatty acids already contain all the hydrogen atoms they can hold. Those fatty acids are bad, since they dramatically increase your cholesterol and increase your LDL.

They’re found in meat and fatty milk products (such as cheese and butter, though also in the solid parts hiding in whole milk, cream, ice cream, and yogurt). They’re also found in tropical oils (vegetable oils that come from tropical plants, specifically coconut oil and palm oil; such oils are nicknamed jungle grease).

At ordinary room temperature, saturated fats are solid, though they melt when heated. (The fat in meat & cheese melt on your stove. Tropical oils melt in the jungle.)

Unsaturated=better Unsaturated fatty acids are missing some hydrogen atoms, are liquid at room temperature, and are healthier than saturated fatty acids.

A fatty acid is called monounsaturated if just one pair of hydrogen atoms is missing. Monounsaturated fatty acids are found in olive oil, peanut oil, and canola oils and resist oxidation (prevent the LDL from sticking to your artery walls).

A fatty acid is called polyunsaturated if at least two pairs of hydrogen atoms are missing. One kind of polyunsaturated fatty acid, called omega-3, is found in fish (especially salmon); it resists oxidation, helps lower your blood’s triglycerides, and also helps keep your heartbeat regular and reduce rheumatoid arthritis. Highly polyunsaturated fatty acids (missing several pairs of hydrogen atoms) are in soybean oil, sunflower oil, and safflower oil; they actually lower your LDL (though they don’t resist oxidation, don’t help heartbeats, and don’t help arthritis).

Unfortunately, foods containing unsaturated fatty acids also contain some saturated fatty acids too.


Eating saturated fat is stupid.

Eating polyunsaturated (or highly polyunsaturated) fat is preferred.

Eating monounsaturated fat is middling.

How to reduce saturated fat

Although shrimp and egg yolks are extremely high in cholesterol, they’re low in fat (since they contain mainly protein instead). Shrimp and egg yolks are therefore “not so bad,” better for you than meat and fatty milk products. But stay away from liver — which is high in cholesterol and also high in toxins.

Eat chicken and turkey Although chicken and turkey are “meat” (and therefore contain saturated fatty acid), they contain less saturated fatty acid than most beef. Chicken and turkey are therefore healthier.

Here are three more rules about chicken and turkey:

Turkey contains less fat than chicken.

White meat (such as breast) contains less fat than dark meat (such as leg).

Inner meat contains less fat than skin.

So the healthiest common poultry is skinless turkey breast; the unhealthiest is “chicken leg with the skin on.”

Be cautious about chicken that’s fried (such as Kentucky Fried Chicken and Chicken McNuggets), since what it’s fried and battered in can be junky.

Avoid hamburger If you insist on eating beef instead of poultry, try this: instead of eating hamburger (which is extremely high in saturated fat), eat leaner meats.

The leanest cuts of beef are called round (such as top round, eye of round, and round tip) and loin (such as top loin, sirloin, or tenderloin). London broil can be lean, especially if it’s made from top round beef.

Instead of beef tenderloin, you can try pork tenderloin, whose fat content is similar. It’s the leanest cut of pork.

For hot fast food at lunch, choose a roast beef sandwich (instead of hamburger).

Too bad all those suggestions cost more than hamburger! Those lean cuts of meat contain just slightly more fat than skinless chicken breast — and way less fat than dark chicken meat!

Taste Fat has a lot of taste. Protein has no taste. When you eat beef, the “taste” you enjoy comes from the hidden fat, not the protein.

The more fat, the more taste. The lowest-fat common meat (skinless turkey breast) is also the least tasty. Shrimp and eggs, which are high in cholesterol and protein but low in fat, are also rather tasteless — unless you fry them in butter or some other fat.

Use spices To eat healthily with taste, reduce the fat but add taste back in by using spices. The easiest spice for American kids to accept is black pepper; as you grow up, graduate to red peppers and other spices.

If you accidentally eat too much hot, spicy pepper and want to clear the spice from your mouth, drink milk, because casein (milk’s main protein) binds to the capsaicin (the burning spice in peppers) and draws it away from your tongue. Milk removes spice; water does not.

Another popular “spice,” to wake up tasteless food, is lemon. It’s the secret ingredient in many packaged foods. If you can’t afford real lemons, try bottled lemon juice or orange concentrate or vinegar.

Switch fats If you want to eat fat safely, switch to unsaturated fats (fish and liquid vegetable oils).

Among fish, nutritionists give salmon the highest praise, because it’s very high in omega-3.

Switch milk Whole milk contains 3½ % fat. Although “3½” sounds small, it isn’t: milk is mostly water; of the non-water part of the milk, fat plays a big role.

Use powdered milk I’ve gotten used to skim milk and like it. If you haven’t adjusted to skim milk yet and still think that skim milk tastes too thin, thicken it by stirring in some powdered milk (which is dried skim milk). If you stir in lots of powdered milk, you can make the concoction taste as thick as a milkshake!

The dairy industry tried selling that concoction (which tastes better than skim milk and also contains more calcium & protein) but had to stop when Dan Rather made a poor news judgment: he ran a story complaining that the dairy industry had “altered” the milk. Dan, you ass, it was altered to make it healthier, and it was labeled as such, so why did you have to whine? Maybe you just wanted the labeling to be clearer?

Trans fat

Another kind of fat is called trans fat. It’s a man-made unhealthy menace, created artificially when manufacturers hydrogenate (add hydrogen to liquid oils, to make them more solid and stable, to produce packaged food that has a longer shelf life without turning rancid). Such food is called
partially hydrogenated, since it’s never hydrogenated fully.

Trans fat is in partially hydrogenated food such as margarine, pudding, crackers, cookies, potato chips, and fast-food restaurant’s deep fryers (to produce French fries and fried fish). Hydrogenating makes the fat become more saturated and undergo other changes, making the fat less healthy.

Recently, researchers have discovered that trans fat (such as margarine) is even worse for you than fully saturated fat (such as butter). Fully saturated fat does two bad things: it increases your cholesterol and LDL. Trans fat is even worse because it does those two bad things plus a third: it lowers your HDL. Because of that research, the federal government now requires all packaged food to have labels showing the trans-fat content, New York City has passed a law preventing restaurants from using trans fat after July 2008, and most restaurant chains are in the process of abolishing trans fat from their food (so they can keep outlets in New York City). Unfortunately, many restaurants are replacing trans fat with saturated fat, which is just slightly healthier.


Lipitor is a pill you can buy. It’s great: it reduces cholesterol, reduces LDL, and raises HDL.

It’s manufactured by Pfizer (a drug company). “Lipitor” is the brand name; its technical chemical name is atorvastatin. Other “statin” pills made by competitors work similarly.

Blood test If you take Lipitor (or a similar statin pill), you must get a blood test every few months, to make sure the drug isn’t damaging your liver and muscles. To make sure you get that test, the government requires you to get a doctor’s prescription to buy the drug.

Cut in half Lipitor is expensive. Since a 20-milligram pill costs just slightly more than a 10-milligram pill, you can save money by having your doctor prescribe 20-milligram pills and cut them in half. (Warning: though that trick works fine with simple pills, such as Lipitor, never use that trick on time-release pills, since cutting a time-release pill would wreck the timing. If you want to use that trick, buy a pill cutter, to cut the pill in half accurately and easily.)

Grapefruit juice If you take grapefruit juice at the same time as Lipitor, the Lipitor will work more strongly. How much more strongly? That depends on the particular grapefruit, the Lipitor dosage, and the timing between them. Since grapefruit stays in your digestive system for 24 hours, the interaction can be big even if you eat the grapefruit many hours before taking the Lipitor. Since the amount of interaction is unpredictable and dangerous (you don’t want to overdose), doctors recommend you avoid grapefruit juice during weeks you’re taking Lipitor. Lipitor is finally shipping with warning labels saying “no grapefruit juice!”

Canada Lipitor costs much less in Canada than in the US, but Lipitor’s manufacturer (Pfizer) has been refusing to sell Lipitor to Canadian pharmacies that try to resell to the US.