Is your number up? Know your cholesterol

Susan L. Burke

Is your cholesterol high? Has your doctor told you to go on a “low-cholesterol diet?”

You may be concerned... and well, you should be! High cholesterol, or hypercholesterolemia (hyper = high, cholesterol = a white, waxy substance manufactured in the liver; and aemia = in the blood), may indicate problems down the road.

Total blood cholesterol is made up of LDL (low-density lipoprotein); HDL (high-density lipoprotein) and VLDL (very low density lipoprotein). Increased levels of “bad” LDL cholesterol are associated with plaque deposits on artery walls that narrow them and restrict blood flow. HDL or "good" cholesterol helps prevent plaque. Do you know your numbers? Should you be concerned?

Both men and women are affected, but more men are commonly diagnosed and treated for high cholesterol. But, why should you be concerned about high cholesterol? Because heart disease is a major killer in the UK and Ireland, and heart disease is mostly caused by a build-up of cholesterol, plaque, and other fatty deposits in your heart's arteries. When the arteries that feed the heart become so clogged that the blood flow gets blocked, a heart attack can occur.

There are a few important factors that put you at an increased risk for having high cholesterol. Number 1... heredity! Unfortunately, destiny lies in your genes. So, people can inherit the increased risk, but lifestyle factors play as important a role in your risk as your family’s medical history. Scientific research has shown that people who eat a diet high in saturated fat, who are obese, who smoke, who are couch-potatoes and don’t get regular exercise, and who are constantly stressed, have an increased risk for getting high cholesterol. Other diseases like hypothyroidism, diabetes, kidney and liver diseases can also increase your risk. People who drink to excess can be more prone to getting high cholesterol... and some prescription drugs can unfortunately increase blood cholesterol.

What’s Your Number?
If you’re concerned about your cholesterol, ask your doctor for a blood test to measure your total blood cholesterol. Readings below 200 mg/dl put you at below-average risk, borderline risk level is 200 mg/dl and high-risk level is greater than 240 mg/dl. If your results indicate risk, then the doctor will probably order further tests to determine the separate levels of LDL, HDL and triglycerides (another kind of blood fat).

Genetics, diet, exercise level, stress level and smoking all influence cholesterol. You can’t change your genes, but you can adopt healthy habits, eat well, and get active.

Lower your Cholesterol
You can do it - you can lower your risk for heart disease! Follow these recommendations for a healthy heart.

• Always speak with your doctor before beginning a new exercise programme. If you have high blood cholesterol, the recommendations are to limit dietary cholesterol, and lower your consumption of saturated fat: egg yolks, whole-milk dairy products, beef, dark meat poultry. Remove the skin from poultry and limit coconut and palm oils, commonly found in commercially baked goods.

• Limit hydrogenated fat, which contains "trans fat,” formed when liquid oil is processed to be solid at room temperature. Packaged baked goods, non-dairy creamers, and other foods made with "shortening" are full of trans fat, which raises "bad" LDL cholesterol and may actually lower "good" HDL cholesterol.

• Egg whites and low-fat dairy, including milk and yoghurt, are good sources of protein and very low in cholesterol and saturated fat.

• Think “high-fibre, low-fat.” Choose foods like whole grains and whole-grain breads and cereal, whole pieces of fruit instead of fruit juice, legumes, lentils, vegetables and salads.

• Get to your healthy weight with a balanced, high-fibre meal plan such as the one you receive with our programme!

• Become a smart consumer. Read food labels and make choices based on the grams of fat and saturated fat. A low-fat food has three grams of fat or less.

• Excess alcohol is linked to high blood cholesterol. The recommended limit for men is two drinks daily; women should limit themselves to one. One drink equals a 125ml glass of wine, half a pint of beer or a measure of spirits.

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Thanks to tescodiets.com who have provided this article.