Hubby: The doctor said my cholesterol was a little high.
Me: What was it?
Hubby: I don’t know.
Me: (staring at him with my mouth open).
This is an over-dramatization, but the point is clear. It is common for folks not to know or ask their doctor about their cholesterol numbers. You noticed I said numbers with an ‘s.’ There is more than one number that you need to know when it comes to cholesterol.
Cholesterol is a fatty substance that our liver makes to help form hormones and is used as a component of our cell membranes. It is primarily found in animal proteins, thus being made by the liver. Since our body makes it, does this mean we are producing too much cholesterol, thus the high number.? Yes! But, generally, that number is based on how much additional cholesterol we eat from our DIET! For example, 3 ounces of veal is 128 mg cholesterol versus 1 cup of skim milk has only 7 mg.
So let’s talk numbers. I know, but I won’t make it too hard! Here is what is recommended by the American Heart Association:
|Total Cholesterol (mg/dL)||<200|
|LDL Cholesterol (mg/dL)||<100|
|HDL Cholesterol (mg/dL)||>50 in women; >40 in men|
Know your numbers to help you lower your risk of heart disease. Knowing total cholesterol is not enough. Know your ratio between total cholesterol and your “bad (loser)” LDL cholesterol versus your “good (happy)” HDL cholesterol. Higher levels of HDL can reduce your blood cholesterol levels and your risk for heart disease. Lifestyle is a contributing factor, such as, weight, smoking, exercise. But, so is genetics (age, family history, sex).
Here is how you can improve the HDL cholesterol (while lowering the LDL cholesterol):
• Increase physical activity
• Weight loss (if needed)
• Decrease (or avoid) foods with saturated fat (i.e. butter, high-marbled meats)
• Avoid trans-fats
• Increase foods with monounsaturated fats (i.e. olive oil, avocado, walnuts, flax seed)
• Don’t smoke
Lifestyle changes have the biggest impact on your cholesterol levels. By making small changes to your daily diet you can help meet your target HDL levels while improving your overall total cholesterol.