I have a dirty little secret. Well, a couple, really – I need my regular MSG fix and I am a slave to salt. Hell, I figure I deserve SOME toxins in my life, since I have never smoked a single cigarette, never used recreational drugs, and (since I finished studying!!) I only very occasionally drink to excess. Clearly, when I do, I do so with all the required gusto and pay a heavy price in terms of physical wellbeing for the next 24 hours… But there you have it. My sins are pretty pedestrian in this day and age. But back to the original DLS: I am the Cholesterol Queen.
It started when I was really young. My mother used to make, as her standard hors d’ouvre for frequent dinner parties, chicken liver pâté and melba toast, served with little blocks of butter in scallop-shaped butter dishes (it was the 1970’s – you get the picture…). I used to help her cut up the butter into said blocks, primarily because this gave me a chance to sneak a whole block into my mouth as a snack. I loved the velvety texture as it melted, the slightly salty taste, the creaminess… Heaven! And if I snuck into the kitchen while the main course was being served, I might be lucky enough to grab another block or two left in the butter dishes. My mother swore I would make myself ill – but I always felt just fine and dandy. I was also an early convert to crispy chicken skin. I would carefully peel the skin off my chicken and keep it aside to eat last, savouring its crispy fattiness. I find skinless, boneless chicken breasts a sad and emasculated version of chicken and generally only good for stuffing or stir-frying – give me SKIN! When we had roast pork for Sunday lunch (as we often did!) I would make quite sure that I got my fair share of the crackling – and possibly some of my brother’s too, if he wasn’t looking. I tell my husband I married him primarily because he is the only person I know who can take a lovely little Karoo lamb chop and get the fat crisped just so – ironic, really, as he cuts the fat off his (right before he has 4 eggs for breakfast…)!! Whipped cream. Mascarpone. Cheese. Crisps. Mayonnaise. Cheese with crisps and mayonnaise. Aaaaaarrrgh!! I think I’ll stop now. You get the picture.
But even in this, the Age of Atkins, you feel a tad guilty about scoffing down everything fatty in sight with such unseemly gusto and without a trace of guilt – have you no concern for your health?? So imagine my joy when I found an article a couple of weeks ago in the May 23rd Observer Magazine by Dr John Briffa, citing the results of a study published in the British Medical Journal on 6 January 2001. I’m not a medical person, but according to my and Dr Briffa’s understanding of the BMJ article, the following are the salient points:
1. If you have raised cholesterol levels and a family history of heart disease and strokes, statin-type cholesterol lowering drugs have been shown to be effective in preventing heart attacks and strokes (so-called ‘secondary prevention’). [Note – there are also a number of articles available on the Net discussing the dangers of statins – here is one.]
2. If you have raised cholesterol levels and a family history of heart disease and strokes, cutting your dietary cholesterol has been shown to lower your risk of heart attacks and strokes (so-called ‘primary prevention’) – but it may also put you at greater risk for other health problems, so your overall mortality risk remains pretty much the same.
3. If you have no family history of heart disease or strokes and are an essentially healthy individual, dietary reduction of cholesterol to lower blood cholesterol levels does not appear to bring about the benefits seen in persons at risk (see 1 and 2).
4. In fact, since cholesterol is one of the body’s essential building blocks, lowering cholesterol levels may potentially upset your body’s equilibrium, leading to mood swings and behavioural problems – some studies indicate a 28% increased risk of death due to suicide, violence or accident – as well as possibly bringing about in increased risk of haemorrhagic stroke.
5. Thus, not only does reducing the amount of cholesterol in a healthy person’s diet not prevent heart disease, it may place you at greater risk for other medical problems.
So… the bottom line seems to be that if you are basically healthy, there’s not much to be gained from cutting down your cholesterol intake. I guess tonight it will be great big pork chops with a mayonnaise-heavy coleslaw and deep-fried Mars Bars for dinner then!! Now, if only they would discover that salt reverses the ageing process…