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National Cholesterol Education Month, and Apple Month !

Posted Sep 09 2009 12:00am
September has a lot of holidays/observances, such as National Cholesterol Education Month, National Mushroom Month, Apple Month, Fruits and Veggies – More Matters Month, and many more. Of course there was Labor Day, and for those of us in Austin, Texas, the Austin Triathlon was being held on Labor Day. Congrats to all of you triathletes who did that event! I wish I could have been out there with you, but alas, I have not had time to train properly for the swim portion so I was on the sidelines cheering and taking photos. Maybe next season.

Anyway, since there are so many great observances this month, I’d like to try and talk a little bit each week about some of them. This week I want to draw attention to it being Apple Month as well as National Cholesterol Education Month. Many of you have likely had a “lipid panel” done, which is where your doctor has a laboratory check your blood levels of total cholesterol, triglycerides, LDL cholesterol, and HDL cholesterol. Some labs even check VLDL cholesterol and the particle sizes of each specific type of cholesterol (but that is a bit more advanced, and not in the typical lipid panel drawn for the average person).

To make sure everyone is clear on what these lipids are, let me give you a brief explanation. HDL stands for High Density Lipoprotein, and is the type commonly referred to as the “good” cholesterol (or you can think “H for healthy”). It helps remove excess cholesterol and fat from your blood stream. It is usually recommended that this number be higher than 40 for men and 50 for women. LDL stands for Low Density Lipoprotein, and is commonly referred to as the “bad” cholesterol (or you can think “L for lousy”). This is the type that is commonly associated with contributing to the formation of plaques that can clog your blood vessels. For the average person it is recommended that this number be below 100. Total cholesterol is just the sum of the various cholesterol particles, and it is recommended that this number be below 200.

Triglycerides are a type of fat used for energy that also can flow through the blood and may contribute to clogged vessels as well. It is generally recommended that triglycerides be below 150. While not actually a type of cholesterol, it is usually checked at the same time as cholesterol levels.

A high intake of saturated and trans fat has been associated with high levels of LDL and triglycerides; excess alcohol and smoking are also contributors. In addition, a high consumption of simple sugars or refined carbohydrates is known to increase triglycerides.

So what lowers the bad stuff? Eating fiber and exercising (as well as avoiding/limiting the things that increase them such as smoking, alcohol, trans fat, and saturated fat). Of course, genetics also play a role; some people may not be able to maintain healthy levels of these various types of lipids through diet and exercise alone.

So where do apples fall into the picture? Apples actually have quite a bit of fiber as well as other nutrients that act as antioxidants and can help lower our risk of heart disease. In fact, there is some research that indicates that eating apples and drinking apple juice may help reduce the damage LDL causes to blood vessels by slowing down the rate of oxidation that is involved in the build up of plaque. In a study done by researchers and the University of California-Davis, this benefit was seen by study participants adding either 2 apples or 12 ounces of apple juice to their daily diet. (Source: Journal of Medicinal Food, 2000, 3: 159-165).

In addition, according to a review of 10 other studies conducted in the United States and Europe between 1977 and 1993 that analyzed the amount of fiber in the diets of 91,058 men and 245,186 women over a 6 to 10 year period, researchers concluded that for every 10 grams of fiber consumed daily, the risk of developing heart disease decreased by 14%, and the risk of dying from heart disease decreased by 27%. They also found that fiber from fruit may actually be even more protective than fiber from grains, lowering the risk of developing heart disease by 16% (versus 10% for grains) and lowering the risk of dying from coronary disease by 30% (versus 25% for grains). (Source: Arch Int Med, vol. 164, no. 4, Feb. 23, 2004; pp 370-376).

So, since apples are currently in season, and they are great for you heart, now is the time to go out and load up on apples!
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