High cholesterol is a new concept in my household. Recently my sister-in-law (at 40 years old) experienced a mild cardiac event. This paired with family history resulted in my husband at regular doctor appointments to confirm his own health. During routine blood work it came up that his cholesterol levels were quite high. My husband not being much of a reader or researcher left me to my own devices which started me on a informational hunt, to do anything possible to bring these levels down. With a new baby on the way it was clear to me that something needed to be done, and there is no better time to start leading by example. Here’s a run-down of what I have learned and how we are starting our journey to a healthier lifestyle.
What is Cholesterol?
Cholesterol is basically a fat-like substance that can collect in the blood vessels and attach to the walls of those vessels, causing them to become much narrower. This process is called “atherosclerosis”. Although this may take years to occur, it usually reaches a much more serious stage before being noticed as there are no symptoms until the blood vessels are badly blocked. What often can occur is the body manages to get by on reduced blood supply until a situation occurs where the heart may need more oxygen. Without sufficient oxygen from the reduced blood supply a heart attack may occur without warning, or even a stroke if the brain oxygen is equally low.
Cholesterol and other fats in the blood are affected by three main factors:
- An inherited tendency towards high cholesterol
- Certain diseases (kidney, liver)
- Eating foods which contain high fat content
For some people with an inherited tendency of high cholesterol, even total avoidance of foods containing fats or cholesterol fails to lower your cholesterol levels enough. This can occur because our bodies already create cholesterol and in some cases produce too much.
LDL & HDL
Say what? Not only do I have high cholesterol now I need to know which type of high cholesterol I have! Don’t worry I am going to break it down for you.
LDL (Low Density Lipoprotein)- Is the “lousy or bad” cholesterol. It plays a key role in building plague on the blood vessel walls. High levels of LDL can increase your risk of heart disease.
HDL (High Density Lipoprotein) – Is the “healthy or good” cholesterol. It carried the lousy cholesterol away from your blood vessel walls, to the liver where it is broken down and removed from the body!
Now that we know what Cholesterol is and the types of cholesterol there are. What can we do to improve our cholesterol levels?
1. QUIT SMOKING. (Can’t say this one enough to my husband especially with a baby on the way). Smoking can lower your levels of HDL (good cholesterol). For more information on how smoking affects your cholesterol levels please visit Healthgrades by click here.
2. Physical exercise – CSEP (Canadian Society for Exercise Physiology) Guidelines suggest 150 minutes (or 30 minutes 5 days a week) of moderate to vigorous intense physical activity per week in bouts of 10 minutes or more for adults ages 18-64.
3. Limit Saturated and Trans Fats – Making changes to reduce the saturated and trans fat in your diet can reduce your LDL level by 10-15%.
- Saturated Fats increase LDL “lousy” cholesterol. These are found in the fat in beef, lamb, pork, chicken, whole dairy products and lard. Coconut and palm oil. And commercially packaged products like cookies and puddings.
- Trans fat increases LDL “lousy” cholesterol and may decrease your healthy HDL. Found in hard margarines, vegetables shortenings, commercially packages products prepare with these fats. Donuts, french fries, cookies, microwave popcorn and flavoured coffee creamer.
- Choose Unsaturated fats.
- Monounsaturated fats: olive, canola, and peanut oils, some non-hydrogenated margarines made with olive, almonds, pecans, hazelnuts and pistachios.
- Polyunsaturated fats: safflower, sunflower, soybean and corn oils. Walnuts, almonds, pecans, sunflower seeds, sesame seeds.
- Eat heart healthy Fish – Omega – 3 fatty acids lower the risk for heart disease and has also been proven to help lower triglycerides (the most common form of fat in your body). Choose at least two servings of fatty fish per week.
- Best sources of omega-3 are fatty fish such as:
- Eat some soluble fibre everyday. Soluble fibre is also helpful for managing blood sugars and weight.
- Rolled oats/oatmeal
- Multigrain or rye bread
- All fresh or frozen fruit and vegetables
- All nuts – especially peanuts, almonds
- Peanut butter and almond butter
Sample day. Low fat Cholesterol diet
|Toasted English muffin||1 1/2 cup red beans and||4 ounces marinated,|
|rice, prepared without||grilled salmon|
|1T. Peanuts butter||meat or added fat|
|1 medium baked sweet|
|2 tsp. jam or preserves||1 cup raw vegetables||potato|
|4 ounces calcium fortified||2 plums (or other fresh fruit)||1 cup steamed broccoli|
|orange juice||Large salad with|
|romaine and mixed|
|1 T. olive oil based|
|6 ounce fruited lowfat||1/4 cup almonds||1 cup skim milk or soy|
3 Cups fat free popcorn
Now I am not saying that we stick to this everyday. There are definitely days where he just wants a snack that he shouldn’t be having. But for the most part cutting fats from our diet has actually been a relatively easy task to accomplish just by watching the nutrition labels on the food we buy, and following a few of the tips I have listed above.
Pinterest is also a really great source of information for low-cholesterol recipes if you feel like your foods are getting repetitive and boring.
Check out this Buzzfeed post for some heart healthy recipes! We’ve made the Thai Chicken Wraps, instead of using tortillas we used lettuce itself! I’ve found that a lot of recipes are easily altered to make it a low cholesterol meal!
Thank you so much for making it this far, kudos to you! I know it was A LOT to take in. If you have any question I would be please to try and help you answer them to the best of my abilities! Please leave a comment for me below and let me know if anything here helped. Can’t wait to hear from you!
xo – Stephanie
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