How To Maintain Healthy Cholesterol This Season
Knowing your numbers and avoiding certain foods will help you enjoy upcoming beach outings, backyard barbecues and parties.
Sure, the digits on your bathroom scale and waistband matter, as they can be used to measure obesity and body fat. But those numbers, however, aren’t necessarily clear indicators of one’s health. Knowing your cholesterol, on the other hand, can provide warning signs of underlying conditions such as hypertension or cardiovascular disease. And what better time than now to boost your knowledge of cholesterol and closely related triglycerides—March 28, after all, is National Triglycerides Day.
OK, the link between cholesterol and heart health isn’t a new finding—it’s been talked about for decades, and countless people have been and are being treated for high cholesterol. But as we move into warmer months and shift to barbecue-filled diets, it’s important to maintain healthful numbers.
What’s important, first, is to understand cholesterol and the differences between the “good” and the “bad” types. Humans, in fact, need cholesterol—a sticky, waxy substance—to perform bodily functions like metabolism and synthesis of vitamin D. The problem lies when too much cholesterol is in the blood and begins to stick to the walls of blood vessels—which can lead to stroke, heart disease and dementia, according to Sheremet Gashi, M.D., a North Arlington-based internist.
“Most patients don’t realize they have high cholesterol until a serious event like a heart attack or they develop symptoms of heart disease,” Dr. Gashi notes.
A simple blood test is all it takes to find out your cholesterol numbers. Patients as young as 20—even those who appear healthy—should receive regular cholesterol tests, Dr. Gashi says.
And here’s what to look for when you see your numbers, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention:
- “Bad” cholesterol is LDL (low-density lipoprotein) and makes up most of your cholesterol; a high level of LDL—particularly when combined with triglycerides in your blood—raises risk of heart disease. A reading around 100 mg/dL (milligrams per decilitre) is ideal for adults, while anything 160 and over is considered high.
- Meanwhile, “good” cholesterol is HDL (high-density lipoprotein), which absorbs cholesterol and allows the liver to flush it from the body. A high level of HDL can reduce risk of heart disease; try to keep this number above 60.
So, what can you do to maintain healthy numbers? “Mildly elevated levels of cholesterol can often be addressed with lifestyle changes, including nutrition counseling to establish healthy eating patterns, being more physically active and losing excess weight,” Dr. Gashi says. If you’re considering a diet change, certain foods loaded with fiber can capture LDLs before they get into the blood stream, while some plants can prevent the body from absorbing cholesterol. Whole grains, barley and oats (a bowl of Cheerios with fruit), for instance, provides the body with fiber as does produce like apples, grapes, beans and eggplant. Other foods like omega-3-loaded fish and vegetable oils also lower LDL.
If you’re at a barbecue or strolling along the boardwalk, be wary of your consumption of certain tasty treats. Red and processed meats like hot dogs and sausages are high in saturated fat and increase cholesterol, as are fried foods (order the side salad instead of fries!), full-fat dairy, butter and oils like palm and coconut.
When diet and exercise don’t work, Dr. Gashi says medication may be needed to bring cholesterol levels to optimal range. But knowing your numbers is the best way to start.
“Routine blood tests and heart disease screening will play an important role in optimizing results of treatment and preventing serious events,” he says.