We’ve been thinking a lot about fat recently at Kale and Cocoa – reporting here on news that eating plenty of natural fat could be the key to living a long and healthy life and here on how the food pyramid is being re-written in the US by advocates of the Low Carb High Fat diet. So all this fat started me thinking about cholesterol. I grew up believing that one of the key benefits of a low fat diet is that it reduces the risk of high levels of this waxy substance. Certainly my parents’ generation were busy cutting cream, butter, eggs and cheese out of their diets to help control their cholesterol. But recent research has shown that much of what we thought we knew –or, at least, I thought I knew – about this issue is wrong. For a start cholesterol does all sorts of positive things for us – helping to produce bile to aid digestion, balancing hormones (Lord knows middle-aged women and teenage girls need help with that) creating vitamin D (and with so little sunshine recently we need that too) and forming part of cell membranes. In fact, looking at the list, it sounds like an all-round good guy. But there are two types of cholesterol: high-density lipoprotein (HDL) – often referred to as “the good cholesterol” and low-density lipoprotein (LDL), a.k.a. “the bad cholesterol”. High HDL protects against heart disease but high levels of LDL increase the risk factors for both cardiovascular and Alzheimer’s Diseases. Recent research at the Linda Crnic Institute for Down Syndrome and the University of Colorado School of Medicine has uncovered more about the link between high levels of LDL and Alzheimer’s. In simple terms, the LDL causes cells to divide incorrectly so damaged chromosomes accumulate. You can read more here. http://www.alzheimersweekly.com/2013/04/cholesterol-triggers-alzheimers-via-3.html?m=1
Much of the cholesterol in our bodies is made by the liver, rather than being ingested. The really interesting news is that foods which are high in cholesterol, like eggs, coconut oil and prawns, don’t raise cholesterol in the blood. So where do high cholesterol levels come from, if not from food? Well, like so many things, unless it’s a genetic predisposition (and there is a lot of that) it’s likely to be lack of exercise, a diet high in saturated and trans fats, and too much alcohol. http://www.nhs.uk/Conditions/Cholesterol/Pages/Prevention.aspx
So exercise, a healthy weight and a healthy diet can help to control cholesterol. Some foods, like those high in fibre, particularly oats, lower cholesterol in the body. So here’s a menu of comforting food to see off the last of the winter chill that contains eggs, coconut oil and low-fat yoghurt – but plenty of fibre too. (A note on yoghurt – Greek yoghurt is lower in sugars than regular types because the whey has been strained off. And there is some evidence to suggest that by-products of lactobacilli fermentation – which turns milk into yogurt -inhibit the body’s ability to make cholesterol.) And the great thing about this menu is that much of it can be prepared in advance – the whole bake can sit happily in the fridge for a day before you bake it, or you could cook the rice and part-roast the veg and just assemble half an hour before you want to cook it. Comfort food indeed.
BROWN RICE AND BUTTERNUT BAKE (serves 4)
250g cooked brown rice
50g grated parmesan or gruyere cheese
250ml Greek yoghurt (I like the Yeo Valley one)
2 cloves garlic, peeled and chopped
Small bunch of sage, leaves chopped
350g cubed butternut squash (I use the prepared bags of butternut and sweet potato from the supermarket – they make life so easy.)
1 tbs melted coconut oil (or olive oil)
1-2 tbs sunflower seeds
Pre-heat the oven to 180C. Toss the butternut and sweet potato mix in the oil and roast in the oven for 30 minutes. Beat the eggs, add garlic, sage, yoghurt and most of the cheese (save some for the topping). If you are cooking this straightaway, mix in the rice and cooked vegetables. If you plan to cook this later, leave the butternut to cool before you mix it with the rest of the ingredients. When you are ready to bake, pour the mixture into an oven-proof dish, sprinkle over remaining cheese and sunflower seeds. Bake for 30-40mins until top is browned and bubbling. Serve with green veg.