Maybe you remember the book that was for Volkswagen repair for the complete idiot. It was called A Manual Of Step By Step Procedures For The Complete Idiot. I think that when most people are told by their doctor after an annual lab test that they have high cholesterol, they feel like a complete idiot. Most people think that they can’t have another hamburger for the rest of their life. Others think that they will do anything not to become a bunny hugger, and others hang on to their cigarettes for dear life.
Here is my disclaimer; Let me start by saying that I’m not a doctor or a dietician, nor do I play one on TV. I have been a Personal Trainer since 1976 and have successfully trained every age, shape, and health level of client. Through research, and ultimately my own and my husband’s diagnosis of high cholesterol, I began to focus on the details. I then realized just how much I didn’t know. I am a Certified Sports Nutritionist with a passion for cooking and the details and components of my meals for ultimate health. And one more thing … I’m pushing 70 years old.
What is the story about Cheerios, or Statin drugs, or cholesterol in general? Unless you go online and do specific research, you will usually only have a short discussion and been given a handout about the cholesterol diet and a prescription for a medication. Personally, I am on a cholesterol medication, but have stayed on the lowest dose possible as I studied up on the rest of the story. In fact, my cholesterol is perfectly in check at this time.
So, lets start with smoking. Smoking makes LDL (bad cholesterol, or L for lousy) stickier making it cling to artery walls which clogs them. It also lowers the HDL (H for healthy) which is what you need to move the cholesterol from artery walls.
According to WebMD, smoking increases clotting, damages your lungs, weakens your bones, increases inflammation and weakens your immune system. Just 20 minutes after you stop smoking, your blood pressure and heart rate go down and in 2-3 weeks your blood flow starts to get better. If your cholesterol is high, a healthier cardiovascular system can definitely extend your life.
So what’s the deal with Cheerios? Well, the FDA has warned that Cheerios claims that eating them can decrease cholesterol in 4 – 6 weeks, and that eating them can prevent or treat heart disease. Eating oats can aid in preventing LDL from sticking, but there are other types of cholesterol involved in your heart health.
The truth about the soluble fiber found in Cheerios is that it forms a gel like consistency in the digestive tract. Consuming 10 – 25 or more grams of soluble fiber each day can lower LDL, but HDL and Triglycerides are only minimally affected by eating soluble fiber. When this gel like consistency is in your digestive tract, you are likely to eliminate some LDL before it gets into your blood stream. Some people add products like Benefiber or Metamucil to their daily routine for a healthy digestive system.
Foods containing soluble fiber are: Oats, peas, beans, apples, citrus fruits, carrots, barley, and psyllium. So to answer the question about Cheerios, yes eating Cheerios or Oatmeal for breakfast every day is a good start, but really a small part of the story.
Without getting technical, remember this article is for the complete idiot, so I am not qualified to talk about the intimate details, but according to Harvard.edu, only about 20% of cholesterol is derived from your diet. The other 80% is created by the liver so when you are put on cholesterol medication, the design is to limit the amount of cholesterol that your body makes. One thing to know is that cholesterol is needed for digestion, Vitamin D production, and the production of certain hormones, so it’s not necessarily a bad word altogether. If you have a 100% heart healthy diet, you could still have sky – high lab reports because that’s what your ancestors had.
So far by reading this article, if you have cut back on smoking and started eating more soluble fiber, you’re off to a good start because LDL or low-density lipoproteins is the “bad” cholesterol and these two changes will aid in lowering this number.
The next lipid or fat found in your blood are Triglycerides. According to the Mayo Clinic, excess calories consumed are converted to Triglycerides and stored in your fat cells only to be released for energy when needed. If you eat more fats than you burn, especially carbohydrates, (BOOM!) more body fat, higher Triglycerides. This is where ANY amount of exercise is very valuable as it not only burns the burden of excess fat, but Triglycerides lurking in your system.
Another component to understand here is Omega 3 Fatty Acids. TV commercials talk about this and guarantee good health, heart health, lower cholesterol, and more. First, let me say that there are millions of products available, some of them just called fish oil, others promise to be the end – all of cholesterol. This is not the whole story. Omega 3 Fatty Acids are a friendly type of fat that the body doesn’t produce on its own, but is necessary in reducing clots and keeping platelets from sticking. They help to keep arteries smooth, lower Triglycerides, slow inflamation, MAY raise HDL (the good stuff) and may lower blood pressure.
The first two Omegas are found in certain types of fatty fish like Mackerel, Wild Salmon, Herring, Tuna, Trout, Anchovy, White Fish, Bluefish, Halibut, Bass, and Krill Oil. It is recommended that you eat one type of this fish at least twice a week. Mercury levels are a concern because of natural and industrial pollution in our waters. Pregnant women should consult with their doctor as to how to get enough Omega 3’s. The third Omega is found in seeds and nuts like milled flax seed, flax seed oil, chia seeds, walnuts, soy foods, canola oil, and algae or algae oil.
You will read about Omega 6 Fatty Acids as another supplement to lower cholesterol numbers, but because it is sometimes ruled as a cause for raising Triglycerides, I’m calling that out of my wheel house of advice. There are also articles claiming that there is not enough research on it’s benefits or risks, so I recommend going to the Harvard.edu website for clearer and more educated research.
Saturated Fats can be called the bad guys here. They are generally solid at room temperature, and you know who they are. Cheese, sour cream, ghee, butter, chocolate, ice cream, and more treats than I can name here. You should consume no more than 20 g women 30 g men per day. They can raise LDL (bad) and it requires HDL (good) to carry it to the liver for disposal. These fats are the ones to go easy on, but they tend to be the ones that are the most fun to eat large amounts of. I love sitting down to a half gallon of ice cream, I mean, who doesn’t? Pizza comes in greasy cheese stuffed crust these days. No matter what your health goals are, saturated fats are not your friend.
Unsaturated Fats are considered friendlier than saturated fats and I have been able to come up with some awesome substitutes.
There are two types of unsaturated fats;
Monosaturated – Maintain HDL and help reduce LDL. Found in fish, olive oil, avocados, brazil nuts, and peanuts.
Polyunsaturated – Found in Omega 3’s, and Omega 6 – Canola, corn, sunflower, peanut butter, avocado oil, eggs. A few of the Omega 6 ingredients are commonly GMO’s, and are surrounded by conflict. I’m not confident enough to endorse one way or another, but if the product is not labeled GMO free, it’s not necessarily your best choice.
Trans Fats – These are the last fat on my list here. Don’t do it! You don’t have to be a nutritionist to know when you bite into these foods that you’re dying a little bit at that moment you start chewing. The primary source for trans fats is partially hydrogenated oils. Hydrogenated oils were called not safe for human consumption by the FDA in 2013. They are found in cakes, donuts, pie crust, bisquits, frozen pizza, cookies, crackers, margarines, french fries, and many other foods found in restaurants and the freezer aisle.
Now you know the names of the fats found in your blood and how to change your numbers. Look at your recent lab tests and ask your doctor what they recommend. Here is my advice in a nutshell.
Read labels! Do your best to eat things that you like but go easy on the bad stuff. Limit your salt. According to the Cleveland Clinic sodium can cause fluid to build up around your heart and lungs raising blood pressure and makes your heart work harder. You should consume less than 2,000 mg per day of sodium.
Watch your calories. Try to stay below 2,000 calories per day with 20-30% being fats. Look for hidden sugar sometimes called high fructose corn syrup which is high in carbs and raises Triglycerides and LDL.
Exercise, even if only for 10 minutes. Any amount of exercise will improve your heart health. This will lower blood pressure, lower cholesterol, lower your blood sugar, take off excess weight, and encourage arteries to dilate more readily. I can’t stress this enough. ANY exercise, even walking around the house rather than sitting is a good thing. Better yet, start a personal program. Walk two laps around the local mall or the local high school track, buy a treadmill, throw a ball for your dog, or anything but the couch.
Want to read more? Check out the American Heart Association website heart.org. They include lots of heart health information, recipes, events, and more.