High Cholesterol Is Not Sexy

There is nothing exotic or romantic about cholesterol; a waxy, fat-based substance that defines our cardiovascular health risk profile. Then why is it, that it is the topic of dinner conversations and long walks on the beach?  I think it is because of the idea that cholesterol is something we can impact or change.  As a dietitian, there is no greater thrill than to see the results of my clients hard work be revealed in the lowering of their cholesterol.  By focusing on four main areas of your diet you can put the “les” back in cholesterol and improve your complete health profile.

Cholesterol is manufactured in your liver, so it makes sense that when we eat animal-based foods there is going to be cholesterol in them (because their liver makes cholesterol too!)  Our own livers make up to 4,000 mg of cholesterol per day, so it is important that we limit the amount of cholesterol we get in our diets.  The American Heart Association recommends that cholesterol intakes be limited to less than 300 mg per day.  To put that number in perspective, 1 egg has 213 mg of cholesterol (all of which is in the yolk), and one 4-ounce hamburger has about 100 mg of cholesterol.  To see a complete list of the cholesterol content in common foods visit this link.  A great way to decrease your daily cholesterol intake is to change a couple of meals each week from animal-based meals to vegetarian based ones.  Several studies have confirmed that following a vegetarian or vegan diet helps to keep cholesterol levels in a desirable range.

Total Caloric intake impacts our cholesterol more than most people think.  Overconsumption leads to weight gain, and we know being overweight increases our cholesterol and risk for heart disease.  Most adults require between 1500 and 2500 calories per day depending on gender, height, weight, age and activity level.  Great websites including www.calorieking.com and www.myfitnesspal.com allow you to determine and track your target daily caloric intake thus helping you to keep calories in check each and every day.

Fitting in fiber is essential to keeping cholesterol levels low.  Fiber is helpful in this area in two main ways.  First, fiber plays a unique role in the small intestine where is literally binds to cholesterol in the food that we have eaten and helps to excrete that cholesterol before it ever enters our blood stream.  The fiber content in foods like Cheerios and Quaker oatmeal is what allows them to boast about their ability to lower your cholesterol.  Secondly, fiber helps to keep us feeling fuller for longer, thus reducing our daily intake and cravings for sweets.  Adults need 25-35 mg of cholesterol each day.  Children need 5 + their age grams of fiber each day.  Fiber intake should be spread throughout the day and be included in part of each meal.  Fiber is found naturally in foods like whole grain breads, cereals, pastas, rice, fruits, vegetables, beans, lentils and popcorn.

Last but certainly not least is the requirement to change the types of fats you include in your daily diet.  There are fats that are actually good for us.  Those are the ones that help to keep your HDL (happy cholesterol) high, while keeping your LDL (lousy cholesterol) low.  The types of magical fats that I am referring to are monounsaturated fats and a certain type of polyunsaturated fats called omega-3 fats.  These fats found in olive oil, canola oil, avocados, nuts, fish and flaxseed should be included in small servings two to three times each day.  Other fats including saturated fat (butter,high-fat dairy, and meats), and trans-fats (margarine and processed liquid vegetable oils) negatively impact our cholesterol by making our total cholesterol and our LDL cholesterol go up. Many Americans were raised putting butter on everything.  While removing butter from your daily routine may seem like a daunting task, rest assured that your taste buds will adapt.  In fact, it only takes your body about three weeks to adjust to a new way of eating.

There are very few things in life that we actually have control over.  While some people have a genetic predisposition toward high cholesterol, the majority of us can control our cholesterol and should feel empowered and mandated to do so.  After all, the only thing less romantic to talk about besides cholesterol is a heart attack.