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Nutrition and Cholesterol

What is Cholesterol?

Cholesterol is a waxy, fat-like substance found in the walls of cells in all parts of the body, from the nervous system to the liver to the heart.

The body uses cholesterol to make hormones, bile acids, vitamin D, and other substances.

Cholesterol circulates in the bloodstream but cannot travel by itself. As with oil and water, cholesterol (which is fatty) and blood (which is watery) do not mix. So cholesterol travels in packages called lipoproteins, which have fat (lipid) inside and protein outside.

There are two main kinds of lipoproteins that carry cholesterol in the blood:

Low density lipoprotein, or LDL, which also is called the "bad" cholesterol because it carries cholesterol to tissues, including the arteries. Most of the cholesterol in the blood is the LDL form. The higher the level of LDL cholesterol in the blood, the greater your risk for heart disease.

High density lipoprotein, or HDL, which also is called the "good" cholesterol because it takes cholesterol from tissues to the liver, which removes it from the body. A low level of HDL cholesterol increases your risk for heart dis- ease.

If there is too much cholesterol in the blood, some of the excess can become trapped in artery walls. Over time, this builds up and is called plaque. The plaque can narrow vessels and make them less flexible, a condition called atherosclerosis or "hardening of the arteries."

What Affects Cholesterol Levels?

Various factors can cause unhealthy choles- terol levels

Heredity. The amount of LDL cholesterol your body makes and how fast it is removed from your body is determined partly by genes.

Age and gender.

Diet: Three nutrients in your diet make LDL levels rise.

Saturated fat, a type of fat found mostly in foods that come from animals;

Trans-fat, found mostly in foods made with hydrogenated oils and fats such as margarine stick, crackers, and French fries

Cholesterol, which comes only from animal products.

Overweight. Excess weight tends to increase your LDL level.

Physical inactivity. Being physically inactive contributes to overweight and can raise LDL and lower HDL.

Understanding Cholesterol test results

Total Cholesterol
Less than 200 mg/dl Desirable
200-239 mg/dl Borderline high
240 mg/dl and above High
LDL Cholesterol
Less than 100 mg/dl Optimal
100-129 mg/dl Near opti-mal/Above optimal
130-159 mg/dl Borderline high
160-189 mg/dl High
190 mg/dl and above Very high
HDL Cholesterol
Less than 40 mg/dl Major heart disease risk factor
60 mg/dl and above Gives some protection against heart disease

Lowering High Cholesterol

Keys to TLC (therapeutic lifestyle changes)

  • Limit saturated fats and trans fats:
  • Foods high in saturated fats include fatty meat, poultry skin, bacon, sausage, whole milk, cream, and butter.
  • Trans-fats are found in stick margarine, shortening, some fried foods, and packaged foods made with hydrogenated oils.
  • Instead of butter or stick margarine, try reduced-fat, whipped, or liquid spreads.
  • Limit the amount of cholesterol you eat to less than 200 milligrams (mg) per day.
  • Foods high in cholesterol include egg yolks (one egg yolk has about 212 mg of cholesterol), fatty meat, whole milk, cheese, shrimp, lobster, and crab.
  • Eat more omega-3 fats (heart-healthy fats):
  • Good choices include salmon, tuna, mackerel, and sardines. Aim to eat fish twice a week.
  • Other foods with omega-3 fats include walnuts and canola and soybean oils.
  • Flaxseed is another source of omega-3 fats. Have it as flaxseed oil or ground flaxseed.
  • Limit the total amount of fat that you eat (including heart-healthy fats) to 25% to 35% of the calories that you eat. If you should eat 2,000 calories per day, your fat intake can be between 50 grams (g) and 75 g per day.
  • Get 20 g to 30 g of dietary fiber per day:
  • Fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and dried beans are good sources of fiber:
    • Aim for 5 cups of fruits and vegetables per day.
    • Have 3 ounces (oz.) of whole grain foods every day.
    • Plan to eat more plant-based meals, using beans and soy foods for protein.

To Reduce Weight

  • Eat smaller portions of foods and remember the balance of foods on your plate: 1/4 protein, 1/4 starch (including potatoes), 1/2 vegetables
  • Eat 3 meals per day, no more than 6 hours apart. Don't skip meals. Snack with fruit between meals.
  • Choose foods lower in fat and sugar. Eating strategies including low glycemic index choices can be helpful. Learn more from a registered dietitian.
  • Aim for a maximum weight loss of 1-2 lbs. (0.5 -1 kg) per week.
  • "Waist loss" as important as weight loss.

Healthy cooking tips

  • Cook without adding fat – bake, broil, roast, barbeque, grill, steam
  • Limit pan frying and avoid deep fat frying
  • Try using 1/3 less fat than your recipe calls for
  • Add flavor to food with herbs and spices – think garlic, lemon, ginger and more
  • Refrigerate soups and stews and skim off fat when solid
  • Use a spray of oil to prevent sticking and add flavor

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