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Did you know that heart disease is the leading cause of death for both men and women? According to the CDC, about 715,000 Americans have a heart attack, and about 600,000 people die from heart disease annually. This means that about 1 in every 4 deaths in the U.S. is attributable to heart disease. And heart disease kills more women than all forms of cancer combined. Did you know that you can prevent and control heart disease? With proper nutrition and exercise, you can manage the health of your heart. One of the best ways to maintain a healthy heart is to manage your overall cholesterol levels. This month’s newsletter will focus on foods that help decrease your overall cholesterol, as well as increase your high-density lipoprotein levels (HDL). Current recommendations are to keep total cholesterol levels below 200 mg/dl. The best ways to manage your cholesterol levels are to eat healthy wholesome foods, limit saturated fat and sugar intake, eliminate trans fat (partially hydrogenated oils) from your diet, participate in regular physical exercise, keep your weight in a healthy range, and refrain from smoking.
Plant sterols and stanols. Naturally occurring plant sterols and stanols actually help to “block” the absorption of cholesterol. To receive the cholesterol lowering benefits of plant sterols and stanols, it is recommended that you consume 2 g (or 2000 mg) per day. An ounce of almonds contains about 30 mg; one tablespoon of sesame seeds contains 100 mg; one tablespoon of Benecol contains 450 mg; and 8 ounces of Minute Maid Heartwise orange juice contain 1000 mg. While decreasing overall cholesterol is important, research has found a strong link between a healthy heart and an increase in HDL cholesterol. HDL is commonly referred to as “good cholesterol” because of its protective role in plaque buildup. HDL helps to remove cholesterol from cells, helping to keep blood flowing through your arteries without buildup or blockage. HDL concentration can be improved through exercise, acquiring and maintaining a healthy weight, quitting smoking, niacin supplementation, and an increase in omega-3 intake from wild-caught fish. Low HDL is considered <40 mg/dl for men and <50 mg/dl for women. A level above 60 mg/dl is considered protective.
Components in foods that have actually been found to help decrease overall cholesterol levels:
4 Cholesterol Lowering Tips
Soluble fibers. Foods rich in soluble fiber help lower cholesterol by attaching to and pulling the artery-clogging molecules out of the body. It is recommended that you consume at least 5-10 grams of soluble fiber a day. Foods rich in soluble fiber include oatmeal, oat bran, amaranth, barley, beans, lentils, dried peas, blackberries, psyllium, eggplant, okra, carrots, sorghum, sweet potatoes, and flax seeds. One cup of oatmeal with 1/2 cup of blackberries and 1 tablespoon of flax seeds for breakfast provides approximately 3.5 grams of soluble fiber!
Unsaturated fats (both monounsaturated and polyunsaturated). Foods rich in unsaturated fats have a direct impact in lowering LDL (the “bad” cholesterol). Unsaturated fats are fats found in plant foods, as well as in fatty fish. Generally speaking, unsaturated fats will be found in a liquid form both at room temperature and when chilled. Good sources of unsaturated fats include nuts, such as almonds, walnuts, and peanuts; liquid vegetable oils, such as sunflower, safflower, walnut oil, and olive oil; and avocados.
Participate in regular physical activity. Exercise at least 30 minutes a day 5-6 times a week. Manage your stress. Stress is a big contributor to heart disease. Exercise, mediation, journaling, proper nutrition, and healthy sleep habits are important ways to manage your stress. Reduce sugar intake. The American Heart Association gives the following recommendations for daily sugar intake: Men: 36 grams or 9 teaspoons, Women: 25 grams or 6 teaspoons, Children: 12 grams or 3 teaspoons Limit alcohol intake. Current recommendations are no more than 2 drinks per day for men and 1 drink per day for women. One drink is equivalent to 12 oz beer, 5 oz wine, and 1.5 oz hard liquor. While some studies have found health benefits with moderate alcohol consumption, it is important to remember moderation is key. Health risk significantly rises when drinking more than 2 drinks per day for men or 1 drink per day for women. Eliminate sugary beverages such as soda. Studies have found fructose consumption to be associated with increased LDL and decreased HDL. Although fruits contain fructose, they should not be avoided due to their positive effect on blood lipids.
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