Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Six Tips for Improving Your Cholesterol Profile

Dear Nutritionist, My new year’s resolution this year is to finally take my doctor’s advice and make some lifestyle changes to reduce my cholesterol.  Do you have any advice?

Congratulations on taking control of your health!  Lifestyle changes can be powerful in improving your ‘numbers’ and your heart health.   

The topic of cholesterol and heart disease is a complicated one—not all experts agree on causes and treatment, and new research is being published continuously.  Please work with your doctor to find a solution that is right for you, taking into account your total health picture, not just your total cholesterol number.  New studies show that your total cholesterol isn’t the best indicator of heart health.  You also need to consider your weight (especially your waist size), blood pressure, fasting blood sugar, triglycerides, and level of HDL (good) cholesterol. 

Here are a few recommendations to get your new year off to a heart healthy start.

1.  Limit your intake of trans fats.
Trans fats, also called hydrogenated fats or oils, are mostly man-made fats that help to increase the shelf life of foods. Trans fat increases your LDL (bad) cholesterol and decreases your HDL (good) cholesterol. Trans fat are listed as an ingredient on food labels.  Try to avoid all trans fats.

2.  Chose mostly monounsaturated fats and omega-3 fatty acids, with saturated fats in moderation.
By eating mostly monounsaturated fats, you can lower your total LDL (bad) cholesterol and increase your HDL (good) cholesterol.  Foods rich in monounsaturated fats are include extra virgin olive oil, olives, avocados, and many nuts and seeds.

Omega-3 fattyacids are another type of healthy fat found in fatty fish and plant proteins like flax seed and walnuts.  The American Heart Association recommends eating a variety of fish (preferably fatty fish like mackerel, lake trout, herring, sardines, albacore tuna, and salmon) at least twice a week.

The American Heart Association still recommends limited saturated fats to no more than 7% of your total calories.  However, new research suggests saturated fats do not correlate with risk of heart disease, while diets high in sugar and refined carbohydrates do increase risk of heart disease.  My advice is—until more definitive research is complete—to eat saturated fat in moderation, but do not replace saturated fat in the diet with low-fat or fat free foods, which usually increases carbohydrate and sugar intake. 

Following a Mediterranean Diet (high in monounsaturated fats, omega-3 fatty acids and fruits and vegetables) is a powerful prescription for preventing heart disease.

3.  Eat enough fiber
Soluble fiber—found in foods like oatmeal, beans, apples, pears, barley and prunes—helps to reduce LDL (bad) cholesterol.  The average American adult consumes only 10 grams of dietary fiber per day, far below the recommended 25 to 35 grams per day.  To increase your fiber, aim for at least five servings of fruits or vegetables a day, and then choose other whole, intact carbohydrates that are rich in fiber like beans, lentils, and whole grains.  Anything with 5 g of fiber or more is a high source of fiber.

Get the recipe for this slow-cooker oatmeal here.
4.  Practice weight management
One of the best ways to increase HDL (good) cholesterol is to achieve a healthyweight.  If you are overweight, a decrease of only 2 pounds of body weight can increase HDL cholesterol by 1 percent!  If you need help with weight loss, please consider attending my No-Diet Weight Loss class on February 17.

5.  Exercise regularly
The other most effective way to raise HDL (good) cholesterol is regular exercise.  Aim for 30 minutes of activity or more on most days of the week. Three 10-minute bouts of exercise are just as effective as one 30-minute session.  Exercise of moderate intensity more than three times per week can increase HDL cholesterol an average of 4 percent!  Exercise also helps to lower triglycerides.

6.  Choose healthy habits
Overall, lifestyle changes like exercise and healthy food choices can generally reduce LDL (bad) cholesterol by 20 to 40 percent.  In addition, manage your stress in healthy ways, don’t smoke, and drink alcohol in moderation.  Smoking cessation can increase HDL by 3 to 6 percent.  Moderate alcohol consumption (1 – 2 glasses per day) can increase HDL by 4 mg/dL. 

Again, be sure and talk to your doctor about all of these lifestyle choices, and whether or not you may need medication or other supplements.

This article was written by Lisa for the January 2014 issue of the Bellingham Community Co-op Magazine.

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