Many of us have a friend or family member with high cholesterol or have been told by our own doctors that we have it ourselves. What does this mean, exactly? Cholesterol is a form of fat in our bloodstream that can very easily collect in our arteries when there is too much, resulting in clogging plaque. This contributes to cardiovascular disease (CVD), which is the leading cause of death in the United States for both males and females.
The good news about this is that CVD risk and cholesterol levels can be moderated through diet and exercise! There are inherited genetic factors that can predispose some individuals to CVD, but for most of the population, preventative steps can be taken.
The average American diet these days consists of 35-40% of total daily calories being consumed as fat. If a person eats 2000 calories a day, they are consuming about 800 of them in the form of fat. And of those 800 fat calories, 15-20% of those are saturated fat, which is a main contributor to raising cholesterol levels. Saturated fat is solid at room temperature – think of butter, cheese, and meat fat. This manner of eating is why the average American is struggling with weight, cholesterol, and other health issues.
So what can you do to mitigate your risk of high cholesterol, or to lower it if you’ve already been diagnosed?
1. Work at reducing your body weight. Fat stored in the body, particularly in the abdominal region, can increase cholesterol levels. Reducing your caloric intake and exercising to reduce your body fat is a step in the right direction.
2. Modify your diet. Track what you eat, and read the nutrition labels. Aim to eat no more than 30% of your daily calories in the form of fat. Choose foods higher in mono-unsaturated and poly-unsaturated fats. These are typically liquid at room temperature and are plant-based (olive oil, nuts, avocados).
Of your fat calories, keep your saturated fats between 7-10% of your total fat calories. Some ways to do this include choosing a lower-fat ground beef (93/7 instead of 80/20); choosing cheese made from 2% milk; switching to fat-free milk; limiting yourself to one egg a day; and saving full-fat butter for a special splurge and switching to a butter/canola or olive oil blend for daily use. Portion sizes matter as well! Moderation is important.
3. Make sure your exercise is weight-bearing. What this means is that you need to support your body weight – walking, running, tennis, hiking, and weight lifting are all good examples. Weight-bearing exercise has been proven to lower total cholesterol levels by increasing the levels of the “good” cholesterol in the body; aim for 30 minutes a day. A brisk walk is a great way to start!
Thanks for reading! Have a healthy week!