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Glossary of Cardiovascular Terms : Definitions Aid in Understanding and Preventing Disease

November 03, 1988|TONI TIPTON

Here is a glossary of terms frequently used in discussions of cardiovascular disease and risk factors for that illness. Also included are definitions for a variety of the fiber foods often mentioned in relation to this disease and its prevention.

Atherosclerosis: A disease that begins early in life with the formation of cholesterol-containing plaque or fatty streaks on the inner walls of the arteries, eventually narrowing them and inhibiting blood flow. When this occurs, the heart must work harder to pump blood through the arteries.

Cholesterol: A vital fat-like compound that is synthesized by the human body and found only in foods of animal origin such as meat, fish, chicken, eggs, milk and cheese. The body is capable of making all the cholesterol it needs for cellular functions. Surplus dietary cholesterol accumulates on blood vessel walls and has been directly correlated with heart disease. A maximum daily intake of 300 milligrams of cholesterol has been recommended.

Blood Cholesterol: Cholesterol in the blood.

Serum Cholesterol: Another term for blood cholesterol.

Hypercholesterolemia: Elevated cholesterol in the blood, 225 milligrams per deciliter and above.

Calories: A measure of energy (heat) in the body: The potential value of foods when they are exchanged for energy in the body.

Lipid: Organic substances including fatty acids and waxes that are insoluble in water. A source of body fuel and an important component of cells.

Lipoprotein: Compounds of lipids that are combined with protein.

LDL: Low-density lipoprotein is a class of lipid-protein complex that is associated with depositing cholesterol in body tissues and arteries, thus the connotation "the bad cholesterol." It is directly available in food, particularly foods that are high in saturated fat.

HDL: High-density lipoprotein is a type of lipid-protein. It carries cholesterol from body tissues and arteries, thus its connotation as "the good cholesterol." So far, there is no relationship between diet and development of HDL in the body. Exercise is, to date, the only means of increasing HDL in the body.

Monounsaturated Fat: While no one has advocated eating too much of any one type of fat, studies have shown that in countries where people consume high amounts of monounsaturated fats such as olive oil, canola (rapeseed) oil, soybean and peanut oil, they have a lower incidence of heart disease. It is believed that monounsaturated fat reduces LDL cholesterol in the body but leaves HDL intact.

Polyunsaturated Fat: Is liquid at room temperature and is derived from vegetable foods. While it has generally been regarded as an "OK" cholesterol, some research has shown that while it also lowers total cholesterol, it also lowers HDL. Sources are corn, cottonseed, sunflower, safflower and soybean oils.

Saturated Fat: Is solid at room temperature and usually comes from animal foods, although a few vegetable fats--cocoa butter, coconut oil, palm kernel oil and palm oil--are naturally saturated. Some vegetable oils are hydrogenated (a process of saturation) to make solid shortening and margarine, so that while they may not contain cholesterol, they are supreme sources of saturated fat. Most coffee lighteners are made of saturated fat, as are most processed baked goods.

Carbohydrates: There are two types of carbohydrates--starches or complex carbohydrates and sugars or simple carbohydrates.

Complex Carbohydrates: These are chains of simple sugars. When eaten, they are broken down by digestive enzymes into simple sugars (glucose), then absorbed into the bloodstream (by the release of insulin) for use as energy (calories). This is the most efficient fuel upon which the body can run since it provides vital nutrients such as protein, vitamins, minerals and dietary fiber. Rich sources are whole-grain breads and cereals, many fruits and vegetables.

Simple Carbohydrates: Compounds such as monosaccharides (one sugar unit) and disaccharides (two sugar units) of which sucrose (refined table sugar), fructose (fruit sugar), lactose (milk sugar) are examples. Since they already are in a form that the body can use, the absorption process is unnecessary--they are ready to be absorbed by the time they reach the small intestine. So they are typically stored as fat in the body.

Fiber: The undigestible substances of plant skeletons or their outer shells and husks. Crude fiber is a laboratory term used by food chemists to estimate the relative fiber value in a material. Dietary fiber is the term used by nutritionists to describe that portion of foods that escapes the digestive process in the body. Whole grains are the preferred source of fiber. Fruits and vegetables are also noteworthy sources.

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