It’s all about cholesterol and the 9 things I wish you knew about it…because some of us aren’t getting it right.
What it is and isn’t:
1.Well, there are two types of it: “Dietary Cholesterol” and “Blood Cholesterol.”
Although we use the same word for the cholesterol in foods and for the cholesterol that gets measured at the doctor’s office in our blood tests, that’s where the similarity ends.
In fact, the most recent research shows that eating foods that contain cholesterol doesn’t directly affect the amount of cholesterol in the blood of most people.
➡ According to the American Heart Association (AHA), it’s the Saturated and Trans Fats we consume that have the biggest impact on blood cholesterol levels.
The best step we can take to secure the health of our arteries and hearts is to limit our intake of Saturated Fats, which are found in animal products like meat and full-fat dairy.
Along with that is the need to decrease our consumption of Trans Fats (also known as partially hydrogenated oils) commonly found in many baked and fried foods.
2. Not All Blood Cholesterol Is Bad
Being diagnosed with high cholesterol can be alarming, and then they give you three different numbers on the lab results, which really confuses things.
These three numbers represent the “good” kind of cholesterol known as HDL (high-density lipoprotein),
The “bad” kind of cholesterol known as LDL (low-density lipoprotein).
And finally, your Total Cholesterol which is the total amount of cholesterol in your blood and includes both low-density and high-density lipoprotein.
➡ The kind you want more of is HDL cholesterol, which helps to improve the health of your heart. The higher your HDL numbers, the better.
➡ The opposite is true for LDL cholesterol. Too much of it increases your risk of heart disease and stroke.
What to do? To raise your protective HDL cholesterol levels, focus on including foods such as these in your diet:
- Whole grains
- Fatty fish
- Olive oil
3. The third thing I wish you knew about cholesterol is that eggs aren’t evil, and neither are shellfish.
While it’s true that a large egg yolk contains 186 milligrams (mg) of cholesterol, it’s been shown that dietary cholesterol doesn’t affect blood cholesterol levels in most people.
The same goes for shellfish. Shrimp and other shellfish are naturally high in cholesterol, but this doesn’t directly lead to high cholesterol levels in your blood.
➡ Both eggs and shellfish are considered lean sources of protein and can be a valuable part of a healthy diet.
Just as eggs and shellfish will not cause you to have high cholesterol, there’s no one food that can save the day either.
Forget the commercials and articles about “magic foods” to lower your LDL cholesterol.
➡ There are no magic foods. You have to look at the overall diet.
The key to lowering cholesterol levels is to eat a generally healthy diet of lean protein, fruit, vegetables, whole grains, and fat-free or low-fat dairy, and to limit saturated and trans fats.
5. Don’t Focus only on fats and high cholesterol. We live in an “either/or” and “all or nothing” world, but that’s unrealistic.
➡ Choosing foods that contain healthy unsaturated fats, like olive oil or avocado, and limiting those with bad saturated and trans fats is the key to bringing down high cholesterol levels, but it’s only part of building a healthier diet.
But it’s not just about eliminating fat. Other foods come into play in a more positive way.
Are you eating enough fruits, vegetables, and whole grains?
The fiber in these foods can contribute to bringing down your cholesterol levels.
Reducing added sugar can also positively impact your cholesterol levels.
The bottom line is that the best way to manage your heart makeover is to look at your diet as a whole before deciding where to make changes.
6. Lifestyle Changes Can Improve Cholesterol Numbers
➡ Pairing lifestyle changes with a healthy diet, for instance, is the most effective way to control your cholesterol.
➡ Being physically active most days of the week
➡ Quitting smoking
➡ Losing weight
➡ Limiting how much alcohol you drink
7. A Family History of High Cholesterol Counts
➡ If members of your family have high cholesterol, you’re more likely to have it as well.
This doesn’t mean that your destiny is sealed, (so don’t use it as an excuse) but you may have to pay more attention than the average person to your diet and lifestyle choices.
➡ If you have a family history of high cholesterol, have your blood cholesterol levels checked every year and focus on a healthy diet to minimize the risk of developing it yourself.
And, I’ll tell you a secret:
8. Cholesterol Isn’t the Only Important Number
It’s only one piece of the pie.
While your diet can only influence a small percentage of your cholesterol values, Triglycerides are highly influenced by diet.
➡ High levels of triglycerides (a type of fat in your blood), increases your risk of heart attack and stroke.
9. Diet Can’t Always Fix High Cholesterol
If you’ve been diagnosed with high cholesterol, take a look at your lifestyle first.
➡ What changes could you make to bring your numbers down?
While it’s true that diet and exercise can help to fix a problem with high cholesterol and in many cases, take care of the problem entirely, this isn’t the case for everyone.
➡ Work closely with your primary doctor or a Registered Dietician to monitor your cholesterol levels.
Remember, however, that although healthy changes can and usually help lower your levels, you should stay open to the idea that in the end, you may need medication as well.
Other factors — like a lack of exercise, and sometimes some of the other medication you take — contribute to cholesterol levels in addition to your diet, so, reaching your health targets can be a bit complicated and require changes all around.
If you’re not sure where to start, pick one or two changes that you know you can stick with:
➡ Small adjustments to your diet
➡ More physical activity or other lifestyle changes can go a long way to lowering cholesterol levels.
Ask yourself: What can I do today to help improve my cholesterol levels?
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