Why Worry About Cholesterol?
Understanding and improving cholesterol is important for men and women of all ages. Too much cholesterol contributes to ah higher risk for cardiovascular disease, such as heart disease and stroke.
Below are common risk factors for developing heart disease.
High blood pressure (treated or untreated)
High total cholesterol
Low HDL (good) cholesterol
Overweight and obesity
It may surprise you to know that cholesterol itself isn’t bad. It is a soft, fat-like substance that your body produces naturally. Cholesterol is in the bloodstream and in your body’s cells. Your body makes all the cholesterol it needs and uses it to keep you healthy. It helps make new cells, some hormones and substances that help digest foods.
Cholesterol is part of a healthy body. But having too much of it in your blood can be a problem. In addition to what your body makes, you also get cholesterol from some foods you eat. The main source of cholesterol in foods comes from animal products such as meat, cheese and butter.
How Cholesterol is Measured
Your healthcare provider will do a blood test called a “fasting lipoprotein profile” to measure your cholesterol levels. It assesses several types of fat in the blood. It is measured in milligrams per deciliter (mg/dL). The test gives you four results: total cholesterol, LDL (bad) cholesterol, HDL (good) cholesterol and triglycerides (blood fats).
The ideal total cholesterol is less than 180 mg/dL.
New prevention guidelines have concluded that an approach that goes beyond cholesterol levels alone and considers overall risk assessment and reduction is better. It’s still important to know your numbers.
Understanding LDL, HDL and Triglycerides
Cholesterol moves through your bloodstream to your body’s cells in special carriers. These are called lipoproteins. These are several kinds of lipoproteins. The two most important are low-density lipoprotein (LDL) and high-density lipoprotein (HDL).
LDL cholesterol is known as “bad” cholesterol. The body’s tissues use some of this cholesterol to build cells. But when you have too much of it, LDL can build up inside your arteries. Together with other substances, it can form plaque (a thick, hard, fatty deposit). Plaque narrows the arteries and reduces blood flow. This is called atherosclerosis.
Plaque may partially or totally block the blood’s flow through an artery, if your heart’s arteries become so narrow that your heart can’t get enough blood, it can lead to chest pain called angina. Even worse, if the plaque splits open, causing a blood clot to form, blood flow to part of the heart muscle can be blocked. This causes a heart attack. And if a clot blocks blood flow to part of the brain, a stroke results.
Your doctors may recommend lifestyle changes or medication to lower your LDL if your risk factors show you have an increased risk for heart disease or stroke.
HDL cholesterol is called “good” cholesterol. Having a high level of HDL can lower your risk of heart attack and stroke. HDL takes cholesterol away from your arteries and back to the liver. There, it’s processed so that excess can be passed from your body. HDL may also remove cholesterol from plaque in the arteries.
Triglycerides are the most common type of fat in the body. They’re also a major energy source. They come from food and your body also makes them.
Certain factors increase your levels of triglycerides and speed up atherosclerosis. As people get older or gain excess weight (or both), their triglyceride and cholesterol levels tend to rise. Being physically inactive, smoking, drinking too much alcohol and eating too many carbohydrates can also increase triglycerides.
Know Your Numbers
Knowing your numbers is important!
The American Heart Association recommends that you be aware of four key numbers: Total cholesterol, blood pressure, blood sugar and body mass index (BMI).
These numbers are important because they will allow you and your healthcare provider to determine your risk for developing cardiovascular disease caused by artherosclerosis. This includes conditions such as angina (chest pain), heart attack, stroke (caused by blood clots) and peripheral artery disease (PAD).
Ideal numbers for most adults are:
Less than 180 mg/dL
Less than 120/80 mmHg
Fasting blood sugar
Less than 100 mg/dL
Body mass index (BMI)
Less than 25 kg/m2
Treat Your Risk
Making healthy lifestyle changes is the first step in reducing your risk. However, sometimes thses changes alone won’t reduce your risk enough.
The American Heart Association recommends that you and your healthcare provider discuss the pros and cons of medical treatment(s) if you are at high risk.
People at high risk include the four major groups below.
Adults with know cardiovascular disease, including stroke, caused by atherosclerosis
Adults with diabetes, aged 40-79 years with LDL-C level of 70-189 mg/dL
Adults with LDL-C level of greater than 190 mg/dL
Adults with LDL-C level of 70-189 mg/dL and a 7.5% or greater 10 year risk of developing cardiovascular disease from atherosclerosis.
It is important to talk to your healthcare provider about your 10-year risk. He or she will assess your risk factors to determine your level of risk and work with you to choose the best treatment approach.
Improving Your Cholesterol through Diet
The food you eat affects your cholesterol, as well as your blood pressure, blood sugar and weight. Your healthcare provider can help you develop a healthy eating plan.
Understanding Saturated Fats
Saturated fats are the main dietary cause of high blood cholesterol. They are found naturally in many foods. They mostly come from animal and dairy sources, such as meat, poultry with skin, cream, butter, cheese and other dairy products made from whole or reduced fat (2%) milk.
The American Heart Association recommends that adukts who would benefit from lowering LDL cholesterol limit their saturated fat intake to 5 to 6 percent of total calories each day. For a person who needs 2,000 calories a day, this in about 11 to 13 grams of saturated fat.
Understanding Trans Fats
Trans fats unsaturatef, but they can raise total and LDL (bad) cholesterol and lower HDL (good) cholesterol. Trans fats occur when hydrogen is added to vegetable oils. This process is known hydrogenation. It converts oils to solids, which improves a food’s shelf life.
Sources of trans fats include commercially baked goods, fried foods and snack foods. They’re also found in foods made with partially hydrogentaed vegetables oils, vegetable shortening or stick margarine.
Everyone can benefit by limiting trans fats. Reducing your trans fat intake is especially important if your doctor has said you should lower your LDL cholesterol.
Fats that Lower cholesterol
Not all fats are bad for your cholesterol levels. Both Polyunsaturatef and monounsaturated fats may help lower LDL cholesterol level.
Plant Oil. They’re normally liquid at room temperature. They’re good to use in limited amounts for cooking or dressings. Examples include olive, corn, safflower, sunflower, soybean, canola, sesame and flaxseed oils.
Foods containing omega-3 fatty acids. Foods rich in omega-3 fatty acids may help reduce the risk of heart disease. Fish are a good source of omega-3 fatty acids, especially oily fish such as mackerel, lake trout, herring, saedines, albacore tuna and salmon.
Note: Women who are pregnant or nursing and young children should avoid eating fish that may be contaminated with mercury or other toxins.
Nuts and seeds. These foods don’t contain cholesterol. They are good sources of protein and fiber. They tend to very high in fat and calories, but most of the fat is polyunsaturated or monounsaturated. Walnuts, almonds and pecans are examples of nuts that have some unsaturated fat, some nuts, such as macadamia nuts, are higher in saturated fat, so check the Nutrition Facts label before you buy.
Some food products, such as cholesterol lowering margarines, contain plant stanols or sterols that, when used in your diet, may help reduce cholesterol.
Foods to limit
To improve your cholesterol, choose foods low in saturated and trans fats. These fats are usually found in meat, dairy foods and products that are commercially baked or fried. Cutting back on these foods can reduce your risk for cardiovascular disease by lowering your LDL cholesterol level. Try these tips to cut down on saturated fat and trans fat.
Limit your intake of whole-fat dairy products such as butter and whole milk or full-fat dairy products (yogurt, cheese).
Eat fewer processed meats that are high in saturated fat and sodium, such as salami and sausage.
Avoid fatty red meats that aren’t trimmed.
Reduce your intake of baked goods such as cakes, cookies, crackers, pastries, pies, muffins and donuts made with saturated fats.
Reduce your use of soild fats such as shortening, land and butter.
Avoid fried foods.
Foods to Choose Most Often
Eating a healthy diet, including foods with low levels of saturated and trans fats, can help your improve your cholesterol, and reach and maintain a healthy weight and a normal blood pressure. This can reduce your risk of heart disease and stroke, as well as other chronic health problems, such as type 2 diabetes, arthirtis and some forms of cancer.
The following tips, based on a daily intake of 2,000 calories, can help you get started.
Eat a diet rich in fruits and vegetables (4 to 5 servings of each per day). Eat more of the deeply colored vegetables and fruits, such as spinach, carrots, peaches and berries. They’re higher in vitamins and minerals.
Eat plenty of high-fiber, whole grain foods (6 to 8 servings per day with most of the servings whole grains). Choose items such as whole wheat, oats/oatmeal, whole rye, brown rice, bulgur (cracked wheat) and quinoa.
Select fat-free, 1% fat and low-fat dairy products (2 to 3 servings per day).
Choose lean meats and poultry without skin (less than 6 ounces per day – about the size of your fist). When you eat red meat or pork, select cuts labeled “loin” and “round”. Thses cuts usually have the least amount of fat. Choose white meat most often when eating poultry.
Eat fish at least twice a week. Look for fatty fish with omega-3 fats, such as salmon, trout and haddock.
Choose unsaturated vegetable oils for cooking, such as canola, olive, saffloer and sunflower oils.
Before You Buy: Read the Label
Make reading food labels at the store a habit. They’ll you choose foods more wisely. Many foods have saturated and trans fats that can raise your cholesterol. Watch for these key terms:
“Free” has none or only a trace amount of a nutrient (for example, sodium).
“Low” contains a small amount of a nutrient (for example, fat).
“Reduced” or “Less” always means the food has 25 percent less of that nutrient (for example, calories) than the standard version of the food.
Prepare foods without adding satuarted and trans fat, sugar and salt.
Remove all visible fat from meat and poultry before cooking.
Grill, bake, steam or broil meats, poultry and fish instead of frying.
Don’t add cream sauces.
Use a vegetable oil spray to brown or saute foods.
Instead of regular cheese, use fat-free or low-fat, low sodium cheeses.