September is Cholesterol Education Month. We know that we all need to get our cholesterol numbers checked with our doctor. Your doctor will probably discuss with you what your LDL cholesterol levels are and what your HDL cholesterol levels are. What exactly are LDL and HDL? Those letters can confuse people. Let us look at what those letters mean and how they affect your risk of cardiovascular disease.
Two Types of Cholesterol
There are 2 types of cholesterol that your body makes. One is called LDL which stands for Low-Density Lipoproteins (bad cholesterol) the other is HDL which stands for High-Density Lipoproteins (good cholesterol).
Cholesterol is a naturally made substance in your body in the liver and it performs a lot of especially important functions in the body.
- It is a critical component of cell walls and structure, keeping them flexible and healthy.
- Cholesterol helps to build human tissue.
- Cholesterol is also used to make several different hormones in the body
- It helps to create bile and digestive acids that help you digest your food.
Lifestyle Habits & Your Cholesterol Levels
Your liver makes a steady supply of cholesterol; and it makes as much as the body needs. Your liver has a transport system for cholesterol – a way to both deliver what the body needs and clean up what the body does not use. Here is how it works: Cholesterol is delivered to your body along with fat and fat-soluble vitamins by way of lipoproteins by the bloodstream. This is all compacted into a very LDL for easy transport. As this very LDL gets carried through the body it changes a bit and can become very dense. If you have too much, the LDL’s can get stuck to the walls of arteries and become what is known as plaque. As these deposits grow and build up, they narrow your blood vessels, making the blood vessels hard and inflexible. They can get oxidized by free radicals making them inflamed and even more dangerous. If they break loose from the artery wall, they can cause a heart attack or a stroke. That is why too much of these LDL’s is a major cardiovascular risk. The body is a pretty amazing piece of equipment so of course, it has a solution. The liver also produces HDL cholesterol or High-Density Lipoproteins. HDLs are released by the liver to go clean up the leftover LDL cholesterol that is left in the blood, so they don’t stick to the artery walls. The HDL cleans up the LDL and carries it back to your liver. Therefore, HDL is called “Good” cholesterol- HDLs help prevent arterial disease by cleaning up the “Bad” LDLs. This is your body’s natural reverse cholesterol transport system.
Your liver makes the right amount of cholesterol that your body needs and if you take in more cholesterol in your diet in foods, your liver naturally adjusts and just slows down the production to keep the steady flow of enough cholesterol within the body. While dietary cholesterol has little influence on cholesterol levels, other foods in your diet can worsen them, as can.
What research shows us is that it is not so much about how much dietary cholesterol per se you are eating, it is how the foods you eat affect the levels of LDL and HDL’s in your body. You want to avoid foods that raise LDL levels and take into consideration lifestyle factors such as whether you have a family history of high cholesterol, whether you smoke or are sedentary. You want to eat more of and improve the foods and lifestyle factors such as exercising 150 minutes per week that help to increase your HDL levels. Talk to your RS Wellness Coach to help implement these changes. Use your RS app to help keep you on track. Small changes can have big results. know your numbers and take control.
Lifestyle Factors to raise HDL and lower LDL:
- Reduce saturated fats like red meat and full-fat dairy
- Avoid trans fats- cakes, cookies, crackers, processed foods like frozen dinners and pizzas
- Increase your Omega 3 foods like fatty fish (salmon, mackerel) and walnuts and flaxseeds
- Increase Mono and Polyunsaturated fat intake- olive oil, sunflower oil, seeds and nuts
- Increase soluble fiber intake- Oatmeal, apples, pears, Brussel sprouts, kidney beans
- Increase fruits and veggies- eat the rainbow of color, at least 5 servings (more is better)
- Add whey protein powder shakes to your diet- Make sure it has “no sugar added”
- Avoid all sugar, refined grains, bread, pasta, white rice & flour products
- Exercise at least 150 minutes per week if your doctor approves
- Quit smoking if you smoke
- Lose weight if you are overweight or obese
- Drink alcohol in moderation
Remember – Always discuss your numbers and what changes you want to make with your doctor.
By: Cindy Luisi WHE, WHC, CCP Wellness Coach