September is National Cholesterol Education Month! Make sure to get your cholesterol levels checked this month! Your body needs cholesterol to work properly. However, having more cholesterol than necessary in your blood can cause clogged arteries which can lead to a heart attack, stroke, or other serious heart disease. It is important to be aware of what cholesterol is and to know the difference between “good” and “bad” cholesterol.
What is Cholesterol?
Cholesterol is a waxy fat-like substance that contributes to the structure of cell membranes. It travels through the bloodstream in packages of protein called Lipoproteins. Cholesterol is necessary to help aid in the synthesis of other compounds in the body such as hormones, vitamin D, and substances that help you digest foods. You might ask, “If it does these important things, why is cholesterol often associated with health problems?” Your body actually makes all the cholesterol you need to carry out these necessary functions. Therefore, over-consumption of “bad” cholesterol builds up in your arteries and causes the health problems associated with high cholesterol. Let’s take a look at the difference between the “bad” and “good” cholesterol.
“Bad” vs. “Good” Cholesterol
Low-density lipoprotein (LDL) – also known as the “bad” cholesterol. This type increases risk of heart attack and other cardiovascular problems. LDL deposits cholesterol in your arteries causing a buildup of plaque making it difficult for the blood to flow thereby leading to cardiovascular problems. Saturated fat in foods raises your LDL cholesterol. You should work hard to avoid these artery clogging fats.
Saturated fats are found in the following foods:
Dairy products made from whole milk
Palm and palm kernel oil
Trans fats are found in commercial baked goods such as cookies and cakes, crackers, fried foods and shortening. Look for the term “partially hydrogenated” on food labels which means the food contains trans fat.
High-density lipoprotein (HDL) – also known as the “good” cholesterol helps keep your arteries clear and reduces risk of heart disease and other cardiovascular problems. HDL carries cholesterol back to your liver where it is broken down and excreted. Unlike LDL which is a number you strive to lower, HDL is a number you should strive to raise.
Goals for Your Cholesterol Numbers
Total cholesterol <200 mg/dl
HDL >60 mg/dl
LDL <100 mg/dl or <70 mg/dl with documented heart disease or at very high risk for heart disease
Tips to raise your HDL cholesterol and lower your LDL
• Choose healthy fats – such as monounsaturated fats and omega 3 fatty acids and avoid saturated and trans fats (see chart below).
Omega-3 Fatty Acids
Fatty fish, such as Salmon, Mackerel, Tuna, Herring, Sardines, Striped Bass
• Use spices and herbs to kick up the flavor of your favorite foods instead of fatty flavoring agents such as butter and heavy creams.
• Make leaner meat choices and reduce to a proper portion size of 3-4 ounces
• Increase your dietary fiber intake by eating more fresh fruits, vegetables and whole grains, which are low in fat and high in fiber.
• Lose weight – studies show that for every pound of weight you lose, your HDL may increase by 1 mg/dl.
• Exercise regularly, at least 30 minutes three times per week.
• Stop smoking which has been shown to increase your HDL by up to 10%.
• Have regular check-ups at your doctor and monitor your health and cholesterol levels.
Make a commitment to yourself to improve your eating and lifestyle habits this month and help lower your total and LDL cholesterol and increase your HDL.