Did you know that September is National Cholesterol Education Month? It’s the perfect time to schedule that physical and to make sure you get your cholesterol levels checked.
National Cholesterol Education Month is a great time to learn what cholesterol is and to understand the difference between “good” and “bad” cholesterol. While your body does need cholesterol to work properly, having more than what is necessary can lead to serious health issues such as cardiovascular disease or stroke.
What is Cholesterol?
Cholesterol is a fat-like substance found in your cells that is required to make hormones and Vitamin D. It helps to maintain your cell membranes and plays a role in the way cells communicate with each other so that the body can function properly. However, if there is too much in your bloodstream, it can attach to artery walls and cause blockages, leading to very dangerous health issues.
The two main types of cholesterol are high-density lipoprotein (HDL), and low-density lipoprotein (LDL). It is desirable to have higher levels of HDL (>40 mg/dL) due to its protective benefits and low levels LDL (<100 mg/dL) due to its role in increasing your risk of coronary heart disease.
Aside from factors like age, gender, and family history, cholesterol levels are also affected by lifestyle choices such as diet, smoking, weight, and being sedentary. Age, gender and family history are not modifiable, but lifestyle choices can be modified to lower your risk of high cholesterol. If you choice healthful foods and start to exercise, you can positively effect your cholesterol levels!
4 Tips to Keep Your Cholesterol in Check
1) Healthy fats vs saturated fats – Choose monounsaturated fats and omega 3 fatty acids instead of foods that are high in saturated fats. Monounsaturated fats include olive oil, almonds, and avocado. Omega 3 fatty acids are found in fish (salmon, tuna), flaxseeds, and walnuts. One easy swap to make can be cooking with olive oil instead of butter.
2) Switch to spices/herbs – Enhance your food’s flavor by using herbs and spices instead of butter, which is high in saturated fat. Cumin, turmeric, basil and cilantro can be added to most dishes and will add a lot of flavor!
3) Increase your fiber – Fiber plays a big role in lowering your cholesterol levels because of it’s ability to help your body excrete it. It binds with cholesterol in your body and then takes it through the rest of your digestive tract, not allowing your body to absorb it. You can increase your fiber by adding more fruits, vegetables, and whole grains into your diet. Swap any white, refined grains for whole grains for an easy increase in fiber.
4) Exercise regularly – The American Heart Association recommends you get at least 30 minutes of exercise 5 days a week for optimal heart health. Exercise plays a role in decreasing your LDL levels and increasing your HDL levels, and decreasing your overall risk for cardiovascular disease.
You have the ability to positively affect your cholesterol levels; it is all in your control. If you modify the fats in your diet, add fiber and increase exercise, you should see a change in your cholesterol.
Do you need help modifying your diet? I can help you. Contact me here and we can discuss what your next steps are.
Your turn to take action: What lifestyle changes will you make this month to help lower your cholesterol levels? Let me know in the comments below!