High blood cholesterol is a major risk factor for heart disease and stroke, the first and fifth leading causes of death in the United States. High cholesterol is asymptomatic; therefore, blood cholesterol screening is the only way to know one's risk.
To celebrate National Cholesterol Education Month, we are going to chat and chew about three things: check, change and control.
First, let’s start with what Cholesterol is. Cholesterol comes from your bodily functions and the foods you eat. It is a waxy substance that can form a thick, hard deposit that narrows your arteries. That is why high cholesterol is a risk factor for heart disease, heart attack and stroke.
There are two types of cholesterol: "bad" and "good." LDL (low-density lipoprotein) cholesterol is the bad kind. HDL (high-density lipoprotein) is the good kind. Too much of the bad kind — or not enough of the good kind — increases the chances that cholesterol will start to slowly build up in the inner walls of arteries that feed the heart and brain. Cholesterol also includes triglycerides—the most common type of fat in the body—which store excess energy from your diet. A high triglyceride level is linked to fatty buildups in artery walls. Know your levels by getting them checked at your annual routine physical.
If you have high LDL cholesterol or triglyceride, the first step to changing these levels is changing unhealthy lifestyle habits. These include diet, activity levels, smoking and excess weight.
- Diet: Limit foods high in saturated and trans fat. These include red meat and dairy products made with whole milk.
- Exercise: Get at least 40 minutes of aerobic exercise with moderate to vigorous intensity three to four times a week. Talk with your doctor before beginning any new exercise regimen.
- Quit Smoking: Smokers can lower their cholesterol levels and help protect their arteries by quitting.
- Lose Weight: Being overweight or obese tends to raise LDL cholesterol and lower HDL cholesterol.
Above, we talked about foods to cut out. On the flip side, there are foods you can add to your die that may help to lower your cholesterol and decrease your risk for heart disease. These heart healthy foods include:
- Vegetables such as carrots, yams, sweet potatoes and brussel sprouts
- Fruits such as berries, apples and pears
- Beans and legumes
- Olive oil
- Walnuts and almonds
- Salmon and other fatty fish
The key is not just changing your diet, but controlling it on a daily basis.
Work with your doctor to develop a plan for controlling your levels and stick with it. It is also important to stay on top of your recommended check-ups to help ensure your changes are effective and make sure you do not fall back into old patterns. If developing healthier habits does not lower your risk enough, your doctor may prescribe medication to help you control your levels. Remember to take your medication as prescribed.