September is National Cholesterol Education Month
By Alicia Heinrich, RD, LN
Avera Sacred Heart Hospital
Why does cholesterol matter? What is cholesterol? How does cholesterol affect me? These are questions worthy of knowing the answer to. Have you had your cholesterol levels checked lately? The National Cholesterol Education Program recommends that adults aged 20 years or older have their cholesterol checked every 5 years. We measure the amount of each HDL and LDL to ensure that we are at a healthy level. It is important to know the difference between HDL and LDL cholesterol. Too much of one type or not enough of another can increase your risk for coronary artery disease, stroke, and heart attack. It is important to know that there are two kinds of cholesterol. They are referred to as “good” and “bad” cholesterol. The good cholesterol is called HDL and the bad cholesterol is called LDL. HDL, or “good” cholesterol, helps prevent arteries from becoming clogged. LDL, or “bad” cholesterol, can build up on the inside of artery walls and contribute to blockages, which can lead to heart attacks. Many of you have probably had a laboratory test done that measures total cholesterol, HDL (good) cholesterol, LDL (bad) cholesterol, and triglycerides. To honor National Cholesterol Education Month, this article features tips to reduce your LDL (bad) cholesterol, and increase your HDL (good) cholesterol.
Tips for increasing your HDL cholesterol and lowering LDL cholesterol:
- Do not smoke – Smoking lowers your HDL cholesterol levels. Quitting smoking can increase your HDL cholesterol levels by as much as 10%!
- Maintain a healthy weight – For every 2 lbs you lose if you are overweight, your HDL level may increase by 0.35 mg/dL and your LDL level will decrease.
- Begin aerobic exercise routine – Try to maintain at least 30 minutes of cardiovascular exercise five days a week. This can be anything that raises your heart rate. Examples include walking, jogging, or bike riding.
- Choose healthier fats – Avoid foods that contain trans-fats and limit saturated fats in your diet. Saturated fat raises your LDL cholesterol level more than anything else in your diet, so try to limit intake to 7% of your total calories per day. Introduce Omega-3 fatty acids into your diet. Omega-3 fatty acids are found in salmon, herring, anchovies, tuna, flaxseed, canola oil, olive oil, peanut oil, soy nuts, and walnuts.
- Add fiber to your diet – Fiber is found in grains, legumes, fruits, and vegetables. Fiber helps reduce your LDL and increase your HDL cholesterol.
- Choose whole grains – Try to make at least half of your grains whole. Examples are oatmeal, oat bran, and other whole-wheat products.
What are healthy cholesterol levels? There are three different values we will look at when it comes to cholesterol. We look at total cholesterol, HDL cholesterol, and LDL cholesterol. Total cholesterol values are within normal limits at less than 200 mg/dL. If you are above this value it increases your risk of coronary heart disease. According to the American Heart Association, HDL cholesterol levels are optimal at 60 mg/dL or above. Higher levels of HDL cholesterol are better because this is protective against heart disease. Low levels of HDL cholesterol for men are less than 40 mg/dL and for women low levels are less than 50 mg/dL, and considered a major risk factor for heart disease. LDL cholesterol levels are favorable at less than 100 mg/dL. The lower this number is, the lower your risk becomes for a heart attack or stroke.
Making small changes in your lifestyle can help improve your cholesterol levels. Try adding 15 minutes of aerobic activity, and work up to 30 minutes five days a week, or try adding a fruit or vegetable at meals or snacks. One small step is all it takes to begin your journey to better cholesterol levels!