Last week was our final group before the summer break and we got into a big discussion about Trans Fat. Specifically, do we ever eliminate the manufactured Trans Fats that we take in, or is our destiny to forever carry them around, stuck to the walls of our arteries?
I walked away with a self-elected task of creating an in-depth explanation of exercise and the role it plays in lowering LDL, which elevates as a result of ingesting too much manufactured Trans Fat. I also discuss the role exercise plays in the function of HDL, which lowers as a result of too much Trans Fat in our diet.
What are Trans Fats, exactly?
Trans Fats are hydrogenated plant oils used by the food industry to help food stay fresh longer. They were first introduced into the market in 1911 by Crisco and used primarily in butter, margarine and shortening. They were initially believed to be safe and healthy, especially healthier than the animal fats they were replacing. They are also versatile, long-lasting and cheap!
Preliminarily studies conducted as early as the 1980s suggested that Trans Fats could promote heart diseases but it wasn’t until the early 1990s that we definitively knew via clear-cut evidence that industrially manufactured Trans Fats caused heart disease.
How does Trans Fat affect my health, specifically?
Dietary fats, including saturated fat and Trans Fats increase cholesterol levels. Specifically, these fats lower your HDL (good) cholesterol levels and raise your LDL (bad) cholesterol levels as well as increase your risk of stroke and heart disease.
LDL’s primary role is to transport cholesterol to various body cells and deposit excess in the artery walls, increasing the risk of heart disease. Maintaining healthy HDL levels is important because it’s primary function is to helps remove the LDL from your blood vessels and transport them back to the liver for excretion.
The lower the levels of HDL, the less efficiently it can carry out this task. Imagine the LDL are the garbage collectors of your body. Without appropriate staffing the “garbage” continues to pile up and it’s not transported quickly enough.
How does exercise* help improve my cholesterol?
Great news! You can reduce and eliminate Trans Fat that has built up in your body by reducing LDL levels in your body. And exercise helps you do that!
Exercise stimulates HDL and other enzymes that work together to remove LDL from the blood vessels and transport it to the liver. From there it is disassembled and eliminated from the body.
Studies show that all forms of aerobic exercise have more of an effect on cholesterol levels than resistance training. Resistance training is still important, though, to maintain muscle strength and proper body mechanics as well as for the prevention of osteoporosis.
How much exercise do I need?
Most public health organizations recommend 30 minutes of moderate to vigorous exercise daily to lower cholesterol levels. Walking, jogging, biking or gardening are all examples of appropriate activity.
The American College of Sports Medicine agrees stating that “the key to controlling cholesterol is abundant physical activity – at least 30 minutes five days per week – along with a diet low in saturated fat and high in fiber”.
Research studies have found that exercise has effectively decreased or maintained Total Cholesterol while decreasing LDL. These studies also showed an 8% decrease in Total Cholesterol in 4 weeks with 20 total sessions. The subjects were engaged in moderate intensity jogging 5 times per week for 30 minutes per session.
Important dietary note: your body doesn’t NEED Trans Fat.
Polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fats are where it’s at. A diet comprised of these healthy fats are important to provide structure to membranes, to create hormones and to absorb vitamins.
Keep in mind that while necessary, you should also moderate your intake of these fats. The Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommends 20-35 percent of your total caloric intake come from these fats. All fat has 9 calories a gram, which means if you adhere to an 1800 calorie per day diet you can have 360 to 630 calories from fat, or 40 to 70 grams, every day.
Polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fats can be found in: nuts and nut butters, fish, seeds, tofu, avocado, olives, vegetable oil (olive, canola, avocado).
Sometimes avoiding all Trans Fat isn’t possible, therefore The American Heart Association recommends less than 1% of your diet come from Trans Fat.
My final piece of advice: Be realistic in your goals so you can achieve them. Begin with easy changes, like incorporating a 10-minute walk into your day.
*Before beginning any exercise program, you should consult your health care provider.
American College of Sports Medicine, October 7, 2016, “Cholesterol Facts: The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly”; Thomas S. Altena, Ed.D.
American Council on Exercise, 2015, Medical Exercise Specialist Manual.
Office of Disease Prevention and Health Promotion, 2017, 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans.
WebMD.com, 2005-2017, “Exercise to Lower Cholesterol”; Susan Davis.