from the Living Well Center
F or many Americans working toward better heart health, an important first step is getting cholesterol to a healthy level. Diet and exercise are important steps to reduce high cholesterol. However, many people may find that with diet and exercise alone, cholesterol numbers are not where they should be.
More than one hundred million Americans have high cholesterol, an important risk factor for heart disease. Though diet is very important, many people don’t realize that cholesterol is also produced in the body based upon heredity.
Learning about your family health history is important—we recommend talking to your family about their health and creating a family health tree (a sample is available on our Web site). Bringing this information to your next doctor visit will help you discuss your family history regarding cholesterol and other hereditary health concerns.
What you eat affects your health, by raising or lowering the blood fats (cholesterol, triglycerides) that circulate through your body. Some foods increase your levels of total cholesterol, LDL or “bad” cholesterol and triglycerides. Over the years, excess cholesterol and fat are deposited in the inner walls of the arteries that supply blood to your heart. Eventually, these deposits can make your arteries narrower and less flexible, a condition known as atherosclerosis. Left unchecked, this buildup can lead to heart attack, stroke and death.
Additionally, because of your family health history, your body may be genetically predisposed to make more cholesterol than you may need, in addition to the cholesterol from your food intake.
Know your numbers!
Each one of us has a cholesterol goal level, based upon our individual risk factors and our risk for heart disease. The National Cholesterol Education Program (NCEP) recommends that everyone age 20 and over have a blood cholesterol test every five years to check their cholesterol levels. To learn more about your goal, visit www.nhlbi.nih.gov/chd for the National Cholesterol Education Program’s Live Healthier, Live Longer Web site.
If your cholesterol levels are mildly to moderately higher than your goal, making a few dietary changes may be all you need to get back on track.
According to current NCEP recommendations, people with coronary heart disease or others considered to be at high risk for coronary heart disease generally have an LDL cholesterol goal of less than 100 mg/dL. An LDL cholesterol goal of less than 70 mg/dL is a therapeutic option for people considered to be at very high risk. Work with your doctor to develop a plan to help reduce your LDL cholesterol number to goal.
Here are guidelines for your cholesterol and triglyceride levels according to NCEP guidelines (new guidelines will be released in 2010):
It is important to remember that these recommendations are for healthy individuals, not for women with existing risk factors for heart disease, such as diabetes, kidney disease, being overweight, smoking or having a family history of heart disease. If you are at risk for heart disease, your target goals likely will be lower.
There are things that you can do now to help you gain a better understanding of your risk factors and perhaps lower your chances of high cholesterol and heart disease. For starters, it’s important that you eat right, get plenty of exercise, as recommended by your physician, and begin to understand your family health history. A healthy diet may help reduce total cholesterol. In general, you want to get “good” cholesterol higher and “bad” cholesterol lower.
You can still enjoy a wide variety of foods by making healthful dietary choices and changes.
If elevated cholesterol is part of your family genetics, or you have other conditions such as heart disease or diabetes, you may need medication in addition to eating a heart-healthy diet. But whether you have normal cholesterol, high levels, or are currently taking a cholesterol-lowering drug, eating a healthy diet is important for everyone.
Good fats/bad fats
Fats can be good for you and your heart, when they’re the right kind and consumed in limited amounts; but even good fat is packed with calories.
Those include monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats, which decrease “bad” cholesterol, and omega-3 fatty acids, which lower triglycerides.
Saturated fats are the bad guys that may endanger your heart. They increase LDL or “bad” cholesterol more than anything else in your diet.
Trans fats are another culprit to watch out for.
1. Switch your dairy
2. Choose lean cuts
3. Cook with monounsaturated or polyunsaturated Oils
4. Use more plant-based proteins instead of animal products
5. Boost your intake of foods that are high in soluble fiber
6. Increase whole grains in your diet
7. Use products containing plant sterol and stanol esters
8. Eat fatty fish twice a week
9. Increase the amounts of fruits and vegetables you eat
10. Keep an eye on dietary cholesterol
Heart-Healthy Tips for Eating Away from Home
Here’s how to eat out and have a terrific meal without taking in too much fat and cholesterol:
For More Heart Healthy Info visit www.heart-strong.com
Lichtenstein, A.H. Dietary fat and cardiovascular risk: quantity or quality? Journal of Women’s Health. 2003 Mar.;12(2):109-14.
Mozaffarian, D., Rimm, E.B., King, I.B., Lawler, R.L., McDonald, G.B., Levy, W.C. Trans fatty acids ad systemic inflammation in heart failure. American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. 2004 Dec.;80(6):1521-5.
Thompson, G.R., Grundy, S.M. History and development of plant sterol and stanol esters for cholesterol-lowering purposes. American Journal of Cardiology. 2005 July 4;96(1 Suppl):3-9.
Associated Press. “U.S. Government Discards One-Size-Fits-All Food Pyramid.” 2005 Apr. 19.
© 2009 National Women’s Health Resource Center, Inc. (NWHRC) All rights reserved. Reprinted with permission from the NWHRC. 1-877-986-9472 (tollfree). On the Web at: www.healthywomen.org.