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

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.

Water-Insoluble Fiber: Found in plant cell walls. It holds water and increases bulk, thus decreasing the time it takes for food to move through the digestive system. This increases motility of the small intestine and colon and decreases transit time. Whole wheat, wheat bran and other whole-grain cereals and vegetables are sources.

Water-Soluble Fiber: These fibers, including gums and pectins, are found in varying amounts in plants. While they too are useful in increasing bulk and promoting laxation, they also slow digestion and therefore delay the absorption of carbohydrates in the body. This reportedly helps to stabilize blood sugar levels by decreasing the body's insulin secretion, thus lowering blood cholesterol levels. Oats, oat bran, barley and dried beans are the best sources of water-soluble fiber. Fruits such as concord grapes, citrus, apples and pears and vegetables such as peas and yams are secondary sources.

Pectin: A class of compounds that is categorized with dietary fiber, although it has no true fiber or threadlike characteristics. Normally associated with fruit (apples and citrus fruit), it is, typically, water-soluble.

Cellulose: A type of plant fiber that forms the principal structure or framework of plants. Major sources of cellulose include the stems and leaves of vegetables and the coverings, skins and hulls of seeds and grains. It is a form of insoluble fiber.

Whole Grain: A complete grain, still containing its original bran, germ and endosperm. Nothing has been added or removed.

Bran: The outer covering or coat of a grain that protects it from damage. This is a major source of fiber in the diet.

Oat Bran: Like wheat bran, this is the outermost protective coating of the oat grain, after the husk is removed. It is milled into a cooked cereal to concentrate the protein, vitamins and minerals naturally found in whole-grain oats.

Oat Groats: Resembling long-grain rice, this is the entire oat kernel including the nutritious bran and the germ. Only the outermost hull has been removed. It has a sweet, nutty flavor like brown rice and takes about 45 minutes to cook. It can be used like rice as a side dish or stuffing or as a base for salads. Nutrition stores or natural-food stores are the best retail outlets for oat groats. It is the groats that are either rolled into oat flakes (oatmeal) or steel-cut, steamed and pressed into flakes.

Oat Flour: Oat groats pulverized to a fine consistency. Can be used with other flours for baking and thickening. Can be substituted in recipes for one-third to one-half the flour called for. It can be made at home from rolled or steel-cut oats or oat groats in the food processor or blender.

Oatmeal: A cooked cereal made of 100% rolled or flaked oats. High in water-soluble fiber.

Steel-cut oats: Unrefined oat groats that have been sliced or split into small pieces with sharp blades.

Oat: A member of the grass family, containing equal amounts of both water-soluble and water-insoluble fiber. They are the highest-quality protein of commonly eaten grains.

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