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.)

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