Preventing Heart Disease
High blood levels of cholesterol (240 mg/dL and higher) greatly increase an individual's risk of heart disease.
Cholesterol is a fatty substance that is used by the body to make cell membranes, hormones, and other substances. We get cholesterol from two sources: 1) our own bodies (it is produced primarily in the liver), and 2) by eating animal products such as meat (beef, chicken, fish), egg yolks, cheese and other whole milk products.
Because the body can easily make all the cholesterol it needs, it doesn't need any additional cholesterol from foods.
Do you know if your blood cholesterol level puts you at risk for heart disease? The table below details the standard breakpoints of total cholesterol levels.
Unlike sugar, cholesterol does not break down in the blood. Cholesterol is packaged as insoluble protein/fat particles called lipoproteins. These lipoproteins travel through the blood, delivering cholesterol to all the parts of our bodies.
Excess cholesterol in the blood can be deposited in artery walls, contributing to a progressive disease called atherosclerosis or hardening of the arteries. As arteries narrow and harden, blood flow is restricted and the heart needs to pump harder to do its job. Hardened arteries can rupture, bleed, hemorrhage, or clot. Heart attacks and strokes occur when a blood clot completely blocks an artery, cutting off blood flow to the heart or brain.LDL/HDL
Two types of lipoprotein packages that carry cholesterol, LDL and HDL, get a lot of press when it comes to heart health. Too much LDL (Low Density Lipoprotein) cholesterol, called the "bad" cholesterol, can endanger the heart. LDL cholesterol contributes to plaque build-up and clogging of the arteries. The more LDL in your blood, the higher your risk of heart disease.
HDL (High Density Lipoprotein) cholesterol, called the "good" cholesterol, protects the heart. HDL counteracts "bad" cholesterol by helping to remove LDL deposits from the arteries. The more HDL in your blood, the lower your risk of heart disease.Reducing LDL
To decrease your LDL ("bad") cholesterol, limit all animal and hydrogenated fats. Instead use moderate amounts of vegetable oils, such as canola, soy, or olive oil. Eat more unrefined foods such as whole-wheat bread and cereals, oatmeal (oat bran is especially helpful in lowering LDL cholesterol), brown rice, and, of course, fruits and vegetables. Legumes (peas, beans, soybeans, garbanzo beans) are high in dietary fiber and help lower LDL cholesterol. Nuts and avocados are also beneficial.
The National Institutes of Health, National Heart, Blood and Lung Institute, devised two eating plans, the Step I and Step II Diets, aimed at lowering LDL cholesterol. The goals of the Step I Diet are to limit cholesterol intake to less than 300 mg per day and fat intake to 30 percent or less of the day's total calories, with only 8 percent to 10 percent of calories from saturated fat. The more aggressive Step II Diet limits cholesterol intake to less than 200 mg per day and fat intake to 30 percent or less of the day's total calories, with less than 7 percent of total calories from saturated fat.
Saturated fats, which are solid at room temperature, derive from beef, pork, lamb, chicken, turkey, butter, egg yolks, coconut oil, palm oil and palm kernel oil. Bacon grease, for example, is saturated fat.
Source: adapted from the Second Report of the Expert Panel on Detection, Evaluation, and Treatment of High Blood Cholesterol in Adults, National Institutes of Health, National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute, 1993.
Proven ways to increase your HDL ("good") cholesterol include:
The soluble fiber in some foods adheres to excess cholesterol in the intestines, blocks its absorption, and ushers it out of your body. Foods high in soluble fiber are oat bran, cooked dry beans, dry peas and lentils. Eat these foods to lower your overall cholesterol level. (Remember to drink six to eight glasses of water each day to help the fiber work.)
Research has shown that the omega-3 fatty acids found in fish can help reduce cholesterol levels and decrease the likelihood of blood clotting. In general, the darker the meat of the fish, the higher the amount of omega-3. To reap the benefits of omega-3, try mackerel, lake trout, herring, fresh albacore tuna, sturgeon, whitefish, salmon or halibut for dinner once or twice a week.
Omega-3 fatty acids are also found in soybean oil, canola oil, nuts, soy, and flax seeds.
If you need additional help to lower your cholesterol, your physician may prescribe medication. Take the medication as directed and make sure you follow your physician's advice about nutrition and physical activity.Steps You Can Take Today:
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