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Cholesterol can be a tricky thing. How much is the right amount? Unfortunately, it’s very easy to have high levels of cholesterol, which directly affects the body’s vital functions like new cell and hormone production. Here’s how to maintain the right amount to keep your heart healthy.
What is Cholesterol?
Cholesterol is made in two ways: 80% from the liver and the rest from your diet. According to the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute (NIH), “Cholesterol is a waxy, fat-like substance that’s found in all cells of the body. Your body needs some cholesterol to make hormones, vitamin D, and substances that help you digest foods.” Your body makes all the cholesterol it needs, but we often get more than we need through the foods we eat.
Cholesterol is found in foods, and mostly from animal products such as meat, poultry, cheese, and fish. Foods that don’t contain animal products can contain other harmful substances known as trans fats or saturated fats, which cause the body to produce even more cholesterol. High sugar also contributes to higher cholesterol levels in the blood. And sometimes, high cholesterol just runs in the family. In this case, despite a healthy lifestyle, genes are to blame.
Cholesterol levels can increase by:
• Diets high in trans fats, saturated fats, and sugar
• A sedentary lifestyle
• Genetic Predisposition
Cholesterol in the Bloodstream
Cholesterol is carried throughout the bloodstream by attaching to proteins, forming a lipoprotein. There are four different types of lipoproteins in the blood:
1. High density lipoprotein (HDL)—aka “good cholesterol”
2. Low density lipoprotein (LDL)—aka “bad cholesterol”
3. Very low density lipoproteins (VLDL)—very bad forms of cholesterol
4. Chylomicrons— very little cholesterol with high fat called triglycerides
Cholesterol and Heart Health
Since cholesterol impacts cardiovascular health and functions, the risk of developing health conditions and illness can be greater depending on what kind of cholesterol and how much you have in your bloodstream. As a general rule, high amounts of LDL are linked to coronary heart disease as it builds on the walls of arteries and hardens them, which is called atherosclerosis. This makes people easily susceptible to heart failure, heart attack, stroke, and other heart diseases. Although, some people with high LDL levels never get heart disease, and many people with heart disease do not have high LDL levels.
At the same time, high amounts of HDL cholesterol are linked to diseased risk. Low cholesterol, despite the fact that is not harmful, can reveal the lingering of another medical condition that needs treatment such as hyperthyroidism, malnutrition, anemia, or sepsis.
As high cholesterol cannot be solely linked to heart disease, it’s best to monitor your cholesterols to make sure they are maintained at a healthy level. The American Heart Association recommends less than 300 milligrams of cholesterol daily.
How to Reduce Cholesterol Risk?
Most cholesterol problems come from the genetic lottery. Some are blessed without having to diet or exercise; they naturally have low cholesterol or high levels of HDL (good cholesterol). Others are genetically at risk for high cholesterol. Eating a healthy diet and exercise can help. Stress is also a factor is raising cholesterol levels, especially since it triggers bad eating and sleeping habits, which can easily increase cholesterol.
Work your way to a powerful and happy heart to reduce bad cholesterol. Make a small yet big change with every meal to eat foods to help your heart—not hurt it! Here’s how:
• Motive yourself by staying positive and through mindful eating.
• Don’t focus on things you can’t eat.
• Eat vegetables, fruits, and whole grains. They are packed with fiber which lowers LDL (bad) cholesterol. Eat as a snack or include as a side dish with every meal five cups of fruits and veggies, and three 1-ounce services of whole grains daily.
• Eat beans, seeds, and nuts. Try beans (legumes) like black beans, garbanzos, or lentils to keep your belly full the right way! Strive for four servings each week.
• Eat “healthy” fats, including fish high in omega-3 fatty acids like albacore tuna, salmon, and sardines. Omega-3’s also lower triglycerides, fight plaque in arteries, lower blood pressure, and reduce risk of abnormal heart rhythms.
• Eat lean unprocessed protein. Fish and chicken should be your protein foundation. Stay away from red meats (beef, pork, and lamb) as they increase heart risk. The American Heart Association recommends two 3.5-ounce servings of fish weekly. Also try tofu and soy protein. Limit unhealthy proteins (bacon, deli meats, hot dogs, sausage, jerky, fried chicken) to two or less servings weekly.
• Cook with “healthy” fats. Use oils high in healthy, unsaturated fats like canola, olive, and peanut oils. Scrap butter, margarine, and lard.
• Don’t skip meals. You’re more likely to overeat or binge eat after. It’s best to eat five to six small meals to maintain blood sugar and metabolism, while limiting calories. Or three large meals might be better for you. Try it and find out for yourself.
• Exercise is key to strengthening your heart, improving blood flow, and raising “good” HDL cholesterol, while controlling blood sugar and body weight.
Prescribed medication is another option which can lower heart disease risk. Please consult your physician before taking any medication or supplements.