So you’ve been told your cholesterol is too high. The doctor hands you a pamphlet and says avoid high cholesterol foods and see a nutritionist. A lot of people I know have this type of experience whether it be high blood pressure, high cholesterol or triglycerides, or some friends have come to me with the Big D, diabetes. Most people are a little shaken and feel they don’t really have enough information to address their situation. The problem is when you get a shock like this you don’t know what to ask. Keep in mind it’s never too late to call the doctor’s office and ask questions. Sit down and make a list right away. There is never a stupid question when it comes to your health.
Getting back to high cholesterol……….the first important factor to keep in mind is that your cholesterol level is not solely based on what you eat, although it does have an influence. Everyone’s body has a level set for how much cholesterol it thinks it needs and it’s usually hereditary. Even if you eat nothing containing cholesterol, the body will still try to hold that level of cholesterol constant. It even knows how to make its own. Some people just have higher cholesterol by nature and it doesn’t mean they are at a higher risk of heart disease. That being said, doctors usually compare past cholesterol levels and will note that your level is going up before they show concern. In this case, it IS something you can change and you should act as quickly as possible before it becomes a real problem.
The next question I usually get is “why does my body want cholesterol?” The answer is cholesterol is the substance used in the walls of your red blood cells. You don’t want weak cell walls do you? It is also important for digestion and maintaining Vitamin D levels in the body. The health community is finding out the importance of Vitamin D for not only bone health, but also for the immune system and maintaining proper hormone levels.
You should also ask your doctor for your cholesterol type break down between HDL and LDL. To simplify it for you, HDL is good and LDL is bad. High LDL can lead to heart disease. Many times when a doctor has concern with your cholesterol, they found you have high LDL. This is important to know because rather than just decreasing cholesterol intake, you want to focus on increasing your HDL.
Now for food…….
Honestly, if you just follow the USDA RDAs, the American Dietetic Association, the American Diabetes Association or even Weight Watchers programs, it will include cholesterol reduction. Losing weight in general will lower your cholesterol level. This means more fruits and vegetables and less of the cholesterol bearing foods.
Animal products are the main source of cholesterol intake including all meats, dairy and eggs. You obviously don’t want to give all of these up as it’s your main source of protein and calcium. Focus and lower cholesterol versions such as fish and poultry for meat, skim or non-fat versions of dairy products, especially cheese if you eat it at all. You can eat egg whites, but the egg yolk is the portion that contains cholesterol. In baking, rather than using butter, use unsaturated vegetable oils when possible.
To increase your HDL, add Omega 3 fatty acids to your diet. Salmon is one of the biggest sources along with sardines. Other sources include olive oil, flax seed oil, peanut oil, nuts, and avocados. You can also supplement with fish oil. If you drink alcohol, there is no need to quit. An occasional glass of red wine is found to increase HDL levels, but if you don’t drink now, don’t start as there are better ways to increase your HDL.
Another question I’ve received is about a recent trend in using red yeast rice to lower cholesterol. Because this is an eastern medicine option, there have not been enough studies done in America to verify its long term effectiveness or its safety. Studies so far have only lasted 12 weeks. Red yeast rice has similar ingredients to prescription drugs, but because the level of active ingredient is not as carefully measured as your standard pharmaceuticals, the amount you are actually taking in can vary. The FDA pulled the most known version of this product off the shelf in 2007 due to lack of testing leading to safety concerns. According to the University of Maryland Medical Center, if you do decide to use red yeast rice, do not exceed 600 mg 4 times daily. Make sure to talk to a pharmacist about side effects and other drug interactions. There are quite a few.
The biggest impact to both reduce your cholesterol level and increase your HDL……..Get Physically Active! Not only will it improve your cholesterol situation, it will also help you lose weight and feel better!
Following all of these simple steps can make a dramatic difference. I’ve had friends able to drop back into their ranges within 3 months. I wish you luck on your next doctor’s visit!