Health

High Cholesterol: Here’s What You Didn’t Know

I always see these ads warning about high cholesterol, especially in women.  As a women, I am concerned with rising health issues that come with age but especially the ones that come with bad habits.  As a teenager, I was not too worried about ‘health consequences.’ I was very athletic when I was younger.  I played a lot of soccer and in the off-seasons, I swam, played basketball, and ran cross-country.  So I ate whatever I wanted and never thought about possible consequences.  Now that I am a little older, I have to be careful.  Just the thought of fried chicken makes my blood pressure and cholesterol rise, adds unwanted weight to my hips and thighs.  Now when I played, I did not eat fried chicken before a game because it would cause cramps during the game. But when I was not playing, I was scarfing down what ever I wanted and craved.  I do miss those days but I wonder what kind of effects that type of eating has possibly played in my health as an adult.

What is Cholesterol?

Cholesterol is a fat-like, waxy substance found in all cells of the body.  The body needs cholesterol to make hormones, vitamin D and other substances that help you digest food. While your liver makes all the cholesterol it needs, cholesterol is also found in some of the foods we eat.  A few examples of the food that contains the cholesterol also called dietary cholesterol are meats, poultry, and full-fat dairy products.  These foods are high in saturated fat and trans fat.  These fats cause the liver to produce more cholesterol, making the production of cholesterol go to an unhealthy amount.

Lipoproteins are small packages of cholesterol that travels through your bloodstream.  The packages are made of proteins on the outside and fat lipid on the inside.

There are two types of lipoproteins that carry cholesterol throughout the body. Maintaining the LDL (low-density lipoproteins and HDL (high-density lopoproteins at healthy levels are important.  LDL is the ‘bad’ cholesterol and high levels lead to a build up of cholesterol in your arteries.  But HDL is the ‘good’ cholesterol because it carries cholesterol from other parts of your body to back to your liver, where it can be removed from.

What is a Healthy Cholesterol Level?

According to National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute, if your HDL cholesterol level is 50 milligrams per deciliter (mg/dl) or less for women (40 mg/dl for men) your risk increases for health problems like heart disease or diabetes.  It is recommended that the total daily cholesterol intake be less than 200 mg/dl and that LDL cholesterol be less than 100 mg/dl by the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute.

What Foods to Avoid That Raise Cholesterol

Any foods that contain saturated fats or trans fats are best to avoid, whether you are lowering your cholesterol or just want to maintain a healthy cholesterol level.  One of my favorite foods to avoid is anything fried.  I was raised in the south and here everything is fried. Even though it tastes great, deep frying cause food to lose water and suck up fat.  The fat makes them more calorie dense but the oil is high in trans fat.  Trans fat are the worst offenders to keeping low cholesterol.

Cookies, pastries, mayonnaise, crackers, microwave popcorn, frozen dinners are all packaged foods that contain hydrogenated oil trans fats. It is recommended by physicians to check the ingredients list for trans fats. Even if the nutrition label says 0 trans fat, it is possible that the food contains less than 0.5 grams of trans fat per serving. Essentially, if it says hydrogenated then it contains trans fat.

Meats with skin or visible fat contain unhealthy saturated fats that can increase LDL. Trimming off the fat and removing the skin from turkey and chicken will help reduce the saturated fat.  Overall, reducing the amount of meat in your diet is best but if the craving won’t go away, choosing the lean cuts are helpful.  Ground beef that is 90/10 lean still carries 9.1 grams of fat and 3.6 grams of saturated fat in a cooked 3 oz serving. Still be careful when eating even the leanest of meats.

Full-fat ice cream, cheese, whole milk and whole-fat yogurt are high in saturated fats as well.  It is recommended to use dairy products that are fat-free or  made with 2% milk or even part skim. Whole milk products are not good and should be avoided when possible.

What Can I Eat That Lowers My Cholesterol?

Smart Balance and Benecol are margarine-like spreads that contain stanols and sterols.  These are a naturally occurring compound found in plant cell wall and they react with cholesterol absorption in the small intestine which lowers LDL cholesterol. I have used Smart Balance margarine and I love it.  I can not tell a difference in taste compared to using regular butter.  I would recommend trying the Smart Balance. You will not be disappointed, guaranteed.

Spices like Turmeric, red cayenne pepper, thyme oil and ginger are good for low cholesterol diet.  They are thought to stabilize fat in cell membranes, lowering triglycerides.

High fiber foods are also good at helping with low cholesterol.  Whole wheat breads, oats, barley, beans, dark leafy green veggies and fruits with tough skin are all great examples of foods with high fiber content.  It is recommended to total around 25 to 30 grams of fiber a day.

Fish are high in omega-3 fatty acids, which help decrease LDL cholesterol.  Salmon, tuna, trout, herring, or king mackerel are perfect foods to consume at least twice a week.  They contain monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats that lower LDL cholesterol and are a good source of unsaturated fats.  Avocado, almonds, walnuts and olive oil are also known as unsaturated fats.  These are good to use as small snacks throughout the day as well to help with hunger.

Keeping all this in mind, making these essential changes to your diet will not only keep your cholesterol low but will keep your heart healthier.  Join me in my 4 week challenge to lower my cholesterol and eat healthier.  Comment below and let me know how you are doing with this challenge.  I would love to hear from my readers as well.

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