Many of you may know that September is National Cholesterol Education Month, but what do you really know about cholesterol? And more importantly, what can you do to help make sure you’re doing all you can to have a healthy cholesterol blood level?
Cholesterol is a waxy, fat-like substance found in the body cells of humans and animals. Although we need it to form hormones and cell membranes, unfortunately millions of Americans have cholesterol levels high enough to increase their risk of heart disease.
There are two main types of cholesterol: high density lipoprotiens (HDL) and low density lipoprotiens (LDL). HDL is often referred to the “good” cholesterol and a healthy level is greater than 40 mg/dL. LDL is the less desirable “bad” cholesterol and doctors like to see this level below 100 mg/dL. Total cholesterol recommended levels are under 200 mg/dL.
So, if you, a family member or loved one falls into the at-risk category, what can you do to help improve your heart health? Here are a few tips to set you on the right path:
Eat more healthy fats, especially omega-3 fats. Fish such as salmon, tuna, mackerel and sardines are good choices. Make a goal to eat fish twice a week. For those non-fish eaters, walnuts, canola and soybean oils and flaxseed are good sources as well.
Make a goal to eat 20 to 30 grams of fiber per day. Vegetables, fruits, whole grains and dried beans are excellent sources. Try for 5 cups of fruits and vegetables daily as a good goal. If you’re new to this idea, start slowly to give your gut some time to adjust to this new healthy habit and make sure to drink plenty of fluids
Limit the amount of saturated and trans fat you eat. Our bodies will take these fats and make our own cholesterol from them. Foods high in saturated fat include butter, cream, whole milk, bacon, sausage, poultry skin and fatty meats. Trans fats are hydrogenated oils like stick margarine, shortening and some fried foods. Not sure if your favorite foods have them? Check the Nutrition Facts Label and these two fats will be listed just below the Total Fat.
Talk to your health care provider about a plan for physical activity. Aim for 20-30 minutes of walking daily if you can. Exercise is the gift that keeps on giving. Make it a habit and you’ll live a longer, healthier life.
Finally, if you have more questions or would like more personal suggestions, consider making an appointment to meet with a Registered Dietitian. We can objectively look at your healthy history, lifestyle and personal preferences and help you come up with a heart healthy plan for life!
Mary is a clinical dietitian at Banner Churchill Community Hospital and consultant for Pershing General Hospital. Your nutrition questions are welcome--send questions to Mary C. Koch, R.D. in care of this newspaper.