Managing cholesterol levels

In a few short days it will be Septembe,r and the National Cholesterol Education Month campaign will begin.  There have been other columns on heart health here recently, but I think a reminder about maintaining healthy cholesterol levels is appropriate.

‘This is fresh in my mind because I had to tweak my diet and exercise plans recently.  My cholesterol was up too high, and I managed to reduce my total cholesterol by 40 points with exercise and diet changes  Now I have to work to keep it there!

So what can one do to improve?

So glad you asked.  Here are a few suggestions:

Make soluble fiber a priority. This fiber dissolves in water and forms a gel that helps to trap and remove cholesterol from the body.  Aim for at least ten grams each day.

Soluble fiber is found in oats, barley, flax, legumes, carrots, citrus fruits, apples, pears, and dried beans and peas, just to name a few.  Along with the fiber, include plenty of fluids to help the fiber do its work.  Add soluble fiber slowly.  This fiber can have a laxative effect if eaten in high amounts all at once.

Reduce saturated fat.  The American Heart Association advises people to consume no more than seven percent of total calories as saturated fat.  For a 2000 calorie intake, that would be 16 grams or less.  A grilled cheese sandwich by itself could rack up 10 grams of saturated fat.

To reduce that saturated fat in your diet, choose only low or non-fat dairy products, soft tub margarines, and the lower fat cuts of meat such as loin and round cuts.  Better yet, substitute chicken, fish, or soy for some of the meat you prepare.  Have one or two meatless days each week.  (And pass on the donuts at the office.)

Substitute healthy oils for other sources of fat.  Extra virgin olive oil, canola oil, seeds and their oils, walnuts, almonds, and avocados are all healthy replacements for other fats. This only works well if the not-so-healthy fats are replaced by the oils and nuts instead of added to the diet.  Otherwise, you will also add extra calories to the day and could gain weight, which is counterproductive to cholesterol control.

Get rid of added trans fats.  Totally.  Get this down to zero.  Foods to avoid include those with partially hydrogenated fat in the ingredient label.  Examples are fried foods, baked items, buttery crackers, processed savory snacks, and desserts, especially store-bought varieties.

Exercise for 30 minutes most days of the week.  This will help increase the good cholesterol HDL, decrease weight (which helps normalize cholesterol, too), and improve health overall.  Start slowly and work up to your goal.  If you are out of shape, a visit to your doctor for the ok is necessary. ( I increased my walks from 30 minutes to 45 minutes or an hour.)

While visiting with the doctor, discuss using products that contain plant sterols and stanols. These plant compounds are similar in form to cholesterol and can block the absorption of it.

The above suggestions will work best along with a healthy diet that includes fruits, vegetables and whole grains.  (Check the Ottawa Cardiovascular Centre for more information of eating for healthy cholesterol levels.)


Starting a walking regimen

I renewed my commitment to a daily walk not long ago, and decided to increase my meanderings to an hour each day.  I enjoy the fresh air and the exercise that I get.

Getting out early in the morning helps with my comfort level during the warmer months.  And early out helps me get my walking accomplished before the day’s responsibilities start knocking on the door (or buzzing on my phone).

This might be a good time for all of us to review our health goals.  I still think of September as a new year of sorts with the beginning of another school year.  And, considering that walking is great for weight maintenance, heart health, and one’s bone density, why not choose this for a goal?

If you are thinking of starting a new exercise regimen and want to add a few more steps to your day, here are a few suggestions.

  • Buy a pedometer to see how many steps you take.  Make a goal of 10,000 steps per day.
  • Park a few more blocks or parking spaces away from your destination.
  • Take the stairs.  Or, walk a few flights of stairs and then use the elevator.  Slowly increase the number of stairs you walk as you gain stamina.
  • Take a break from your favorite TV shows and walk around the house or walk up and down the stairs a few times.  Much better than getting up for a snack!
  • Or put the treadmill, that is gathering dust or collecting clothes, in front of the TV and walk while you watch.
  • Find a park and walk with friends, family members, or the dog.
  • At the office walk to your colleague’s desk instead of sending an email.
  • Set up regular walking dates with friends who share your goal.
  • Get a good pair of walking shoes so your feet enjoy the experience, too.

If it has been awhile since you have exercised, be sure to check with a medical professional to make sure that you are physically fit.  For more information on walking, check out the Mayo Clinic site.


An apple a day: apple season is around the corner

One of the great joys of fall is biting into a fresh, crisp, juicy apple. Yum! Nothing beats it for a snack on a sunny, autumn afternoon. Apples are not only a tasty treat but also healthy and full of nutrients.

A medium apple provides about 4 grams of fiber and a good supple of vitamin C. The soluble fiber in apples (pectin) can help reduce LDL cholesterol, the type that clogs up our arteries. Apples also contain a compound called quercetin that acts as an antioxidant, helping to decrease inflammation.

When choosing apples, look for those that are firm, brightly colored, and free from bruises. Keep the apples cool when storing as the fruit ripens quickly at room temperature. Of course, a bowl of apples freshly washed and placed on the kitchen table is a great way to get the family to reach for fruit when hungry for a snack.

The rest of the apples can be stored in the fridge either in the fruit crisper or in perforated plastic bags. For long-term storage, keep the apples in a dark, cool humid area, approximately 32-40 degrees. Or, place the apples in the garage or basement if the temperature is appropriate.

There are many ways to enjoy this fall fruit besides out-of-hand. Cut apples are another way to partake of this fruit‘s bounty. To prevent browning on freshly cut fruit, sprinkle with sugar or dip in lemon, lime, or orange juice. Dipping in a carbonated white soda such as Sprite will protect the apples from browning without adding any extra flavor.

Try chopped apples in cabbage or broccoli slaws. Or, mix cut apples with yogurt and then sprinkle with cinnamon–a yummy treat as a salad or dessert! And don’t forget about the traditional baked apple which smells just wonderful while baking in the oven.

Apples come in many varieties. Golden Delicious does not brown readily when sliced and is a mellow apple that cooks well, too. Granny Smith is juicy, crunchy, and tart, perfect for salads or eating out-of-hand. Fuji and Gala apples are sweet and flavorful for salads or sauce. Another tart apple, also suitable for applesauce is the McIntosh variety. Or, try the Honeycrisp for a really sweet treat.

Gee, almost time for my apple break! I think I will crunch on a sliced Golden Delicious apple, sprinkled with cinnamon. Won’t you join me?

Healthy after-school snacks

With another school year underway, kids are looking for after-school snacks to quell their growling stomachs. By offering healthy foods, you will not only provide a source of energy after a long day at school, but also contribute to your child’s daily nutrient needs.

Try to serve snacks one to two hours before a meal so that children are hungry again at mealtime. Grazing from the time one gets home until dinner will interfere with natural hunger cues and may lead to weight gain.

Make a snack part of the overall daily intake of fruits, veggies, whole grains, and healthy fats. Resist the urge to rely on a candy bars, cookies, or some types of processed foods that may be high in sodium or sugar. Such foods taste good, but offer fewer nutrients and more saturated fat than fruits, vegetables, whole grains, or nuts.

The suggestions for healthy snack foods are endless. The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics offers helpful ideas for kids of all ages. Here are a few to get you started.

•Make a yogurt parfait by layering low-fat or fat-free yogurt with fresh fruit and a whole grain cereal.
•Set out carrot and celery sticks with nut butters or low-fat salad dressing for a dip.
•Mix together raisins or other dried fruit (chop into smaller pieces if needed) with whole grain cereal, pretzels, small fat-reduced crackers, or nuts. (Choking hazard alert: use only if your child is old enough to eat nuts and small dried fruits without choking).
•Spread peanut butter or low-fat cream cheese on a small, whole wheat tortilla and roll up. Wrap around a celery stick for a crunchy center.
•Freeze banana slices in a single layer on a cookie sheet for a cold treat. These are really yummy! Or, serve unfrozen and kabob style by threading on a thin pretzel with other sliced fruit.
•For something warm, toast an English muffin, a bagel, or whole wheat bread round, and spread with peanut butter. Another tasty version is to add shredded, low-fat cheese to the breads and melt in the microwave.
•Applesauce is a yummy treat when warmed a bit in the microwave and topped with ground cinnamon.
•Pop some popcorn, a perennial favorite of kids and adults alike. This is an easy snack to prepare ahead of time and take along in sandwich bags when after-school events are scheduled.
•If serving crackers and low-fat cheese, try Ry-Krisp, Wasabrod, and other similar items.

And on those days when you may be too busy to chop and bag, good-for-you-food is still within reach. Registered dietitian Elaine Magee of WebMD has compiled a list of healthy, prepackaged choices from the grocery aisles including Nabisco Fig Newtons, Healthy Choice Fudge Bars, Bumble Bee Tuna Salad Kit, and various soups.

Enjoy your healthy snacks.

Every day that I delay…..

is one day less to get started. This is paraphrasing a quote from mixed media artist Kent Youngstrom. Actually, he says it better than I: “Everyday you wait is a day you won’t get back.”

That is a sobering thought. And the words hit home in so many ways. How often have we said to ourselves and others:

I will start walking tomorrow.

I will get back to my strength training next week.

I will start eating better as soon as I find the right diet book.

I will start meditating after I finish this stressful project at work.

I will get a physical as soon as I have time.

I will work on my blog tomorrow. (This is for me!)

A good visual reminder about the passage of time would be two glass jars of similar size, one filled with 365 marbles (or other item) and the second jar left empty. Label the filled jar “days available” and the empty jar “days lost.” As each day goes by, transfer a marble from the filled jar to the empty one.

What is it that you are putting off until tomorrow?