SEPTEMBER IS NATIONAL CHOLESTEROL AWARENESS MONTH
Heart disease remains a leading cause of death for men and women in the united states. Hypercholesterolemia or high cholesterol is one of the most preventable risk factors for developing heart disease, making cholesterol awareness so important.
According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), more than 54% of patients with hypercholesterolemia, are prescribed cholesterol-lowering medications.
While it is important to take medications as prescribed, the best way to reduce the risk of heart disease is to commit to dietary and lifestyle changes that include eating a heart-healthy diet and getting regular exercise.
WHAT IS CHOLESTEROL?
Cholesterol is fat made up of lipoproteins that circulate in the blood. The liver makes cholesterol which our body needs for protecting nerves and cells. Cholesterol also comes from the foods we eat.
Two main lipoproteins make up cholesterol, high-density lipoproteins (HDL) and low-density lipoproteins (LDL).
-HDL is known as the “good” cholesterol. It acts to remove cholesterol from arteries by moving it to your liver where it is use or excreted.
-LDL is known as the “bad” cholesterol. It can build up on the artery walls creating a substance called plaque, which can lead to a blockage.
Triglycerides are another type of fat storage made up of excess or unused calories. Triglycerides also contribute to the narrowing of artery walls and cause plaque.
CHOLESTEROL AWARENESS MEANS KNOWING YOUR NUMBERS
When you have your cholesterol level checked, it is important to know your total cholesterol as well as your HDL and LDL numbers. The total is not quite the sum of HDL and LDL and includes other fats.
The latest guidelines suggest:
-A total cholesterol level below 200, and ideally less than 170 mg.dL
-HDL cholesterol levels greater than 35mg/dL , with a goal of 60 mg/dL or higher
-LDL cholesterol levels less than 100mg/dL
-Triglycerides levels less than 150mg/dL
HOW CAN I IMPROVE MY NUMBERS AND REDUCE MY RISK?
1. LOSE WEIGHT
Obesity is directly related to heart disease. Obese individuals tend to have a higher cholesterol level as well as elevated blood pressure and an increased risk of developing diabetes. Even a small amount of weight loss protects your health, therefore you don’t have to achieve your ideal body weight to reap health benefits.
The best way to lose weight is to change your habits. You might start by decreasing portions or being more mindful of what you eat. Eating just 500 fewer calories per day results in a loss of one pound in a week. In other words, one less snack per day could make a difference.
2. CHOOSE HEALTHY FATS AND FOODS HIGH IN OMEGA-3 FATTY ACIDS
Fat is an important part of our diet. It provides energy, builds cell membranes, and plays a role in muscle movement. It is also essential for absorbing fat-soluble vitamins. But all fats are not equal.
Saturated and trans fats are unhealthy. Consequently, diets high in these can increase cholesterol and undesirable LDL levels. Saturated fat is found in red meat, whole milk, whole-milk dairy foods, cheese, coconut oil, and palm oil. Highly processed foods such as frozen entrees, bakery products, coffee creamers, and deli meats may contain trans or saturated fats.
Healthy fats are mono- or polyunsaturated fats and omega-3 fatty acids. For example, plant oils, nuts, seeds, avocados, and fatty fish are examples of healthy fats. Substituting these for saturated fats can reduce harmful LDL and triglyceride levels, and increase beneficial HDL. A 2007 study of Japanese adults who had been consuming a diet high in omega-3 fatty acids found a “19% risk reduction in major coronary events.”
3. INCREASE DIETARY FIBER
Dietary fiber is the undigested portion of carbohydrates that is not absorbed by the body and helps move food through the digestive tract. Fiber is soluble or insoluble.
Soluble fiber dissolves in water and forms a gel. Research suggests it may lower cholesterol by decreasing the amount produced and increasing the amount excreted. In addition, soluble fiber may lower blood glucose by slowing carbohydrate absorption. Oats, barley, some vegetables (Brussels sprouts, broccoli, lima beans), and fruits (pears, apples, nectarines, apricots) are examples of soluble fiber.
Insoluble fiber does not dissolve in water but attracts water. It makes the stool soft and easy to pass, decreasing the time any harmful toxins are in contact with the intestines. Insoluble fiber also helps improve insulin sensitivity. Whole wheat, wheat bran, green beans, potatoes, seeds, and nuts are sources of insoluble fiber.
Both soluble and insoluble fiber are important parts of a healthy diet. The recommended intake of fiber is 25-30 grams per day.
4. LIMIT ALCOHOL AND QUIT SMOKING
Drinking too much alcohol can increase blood pressure and your risk of heart disease. Alcohol also contains a lot of sugar and calories, thereby contributing to obesity and elevated triglyceride levels.
In moderate amounts, however, studies have found alcohol consumption, may be heart-protective by slowing the decline of good HDL levels. Moderate amounts were described as 1/2 to 1 drink per day for women and 1 to 2 drinks per day for men. This benefit was eliminated with heavy drinking.
Red wine contains a compound called resveratrol, which has antioxidant properties that may increase desirable HDL levels and decrease damage to blood vessels. Some studies link red wine to a reduced risk of inflammation and blood clotting, but results are mixed and research is ongoing.
Smoking damages arteries and blood vessels increasing the risk of cholesterol build-up or plaque. According to the CDC, smoking increases triglycerides and lowers good HDL cholesterol.
5. CHOLESTEROL AWARENESS INCLUDES GETTING REGULAR EXERCISE
Exercise is a key component in reducing the risk of heart disease. Research finds an increase in good HDL cholesterol and a reduction in triglycerides with moderate-intensity exercise such as jogging. Furthermore, it finds the amount of exercise to be more important than the intensity, independent of any change in weight.
Another study looked at the benefits of low-intensity exercises, such as walking, and found an insignificant difference between aerobic walkers and strollers. Participants were placed into 3 groups: aerobic walkers (5 mph), brisk walkers (4mph), and strollers (3mph). They were asked to walk approximately 3 miles per day, 5 days per week. After 24 weeks, all the walkers had improved HDL levels suggesting intensity alone is not necessary to obtain health benefits.
The American Heart Association recommends 30 minutes of moderate exercise 5 days a week for overall heart health.
THE BOTTOM LINE ON CHOLESTEROL AWARENESS…
Making changes with your diet, and increasing your activity level, are necessary steps toward lowering your cholesterol levels and consequently reducing your risk of heart disease.
Start by having your cholesterol numbers checked. If they aren’t where they should be, talk to your doctor about the right course of treatment for you.
Commit to making a healthy lifestyle change. Lose weight, if necessary. Obesity is directly related to heart disease. Choose healthy fats, increase dietary fiber, and limit alcohol. Furthermore, stop smoking or don’t start, and get started on a regular exercise routine that will improve your heart health and overall wellbeing.
If you would like more information on cholesterol or would like to make an appointment with one of our registered dietitians to help with meal planning, call us today @ 240-449-3094.