Cholesterol is a waxy, fat-like substance made in the liver. It also is found in certain foods, including dairy products, eggs and meat.
The body needs some cholesterol to function properly. Cell walls need cholesterol to produce hormones, vitamin D and the bile acids that help to digest fat.
Heredity as well as diets high in saturated fats have been proven to be major factors in abnormal levels of cholesterol, which may be a contributor to the development of plaque in the arteries.
Diets high in saturated fats are associated with elevated LDL (bad cholesterol) levels. If inflammation is present in the artery, it is possible for the cholesterol to stick to the walls and cause blockages.
Diabetes, low thyroid function and diseases of the liver and kidneys also can affect cholesterol levels. See your physician on a regular basis to monitor your risk for heart disease.
Good Cholesterol: Improve Your HDL
What is HDL?
HDL stands for high-density lipoprotein. HDL is known as “good” cholesterol. It
removes cholesterol from the walls of the arteries and takes it back to the liver to be
reused or disposed of in bile. The higher your HDL level, the better. An HDL level over 60 mg/dl can protect your heart from disease and heart attack. There are ways to increase your HDL level to better protect your heart:
If you smoke – stop!
Smoking is linked to decreased HDL levels as well as damaged blood vessels and a host of other diseases. Smoking is the most preventable risk factor for cardiovascular disease. If you do not smoke, it’s just as important to avoid secondhand smoke.
Thirty minutes of moderate to vigorous physical activity most days of the week may be all you need to raise HDL. Try a brisk walk, biking or swimming if you do not already have an exercise routine.
Eat plenty of omega-3 fatty acids
Foods high in omega-3 fatty acids include salmon, tuna, almonds, walnuts, avocados, green leafy vegetables, flaxseed and olive oil. Helpful hints for eating the right portions of healthy fats:
- A handful of nuts = 1 serving
- Eat 1 to 2 servings of salmon or tuna (steaks/fillets versus canned fish) per week.
- If you cannot eat enough fish, an alternative could be pharmaceutical-grade fish oil capsules. Consult your physician before starting this type of supplement.
- Green leafy vegetables contain smaller amounts of omega-3 fatty acids, so eat plenty of them!
- Flaxseed oil has a light nutty flavor that can be used in vinaigrette or with lemon as a delicious salad dressing. Flaxseed oil also is available in capsule form.
- Flaxseed can be sprinkled on salads or incorporated into smoothies and casseroles.
- Olive oil is versatile and simple to incorporate into your diet. It can be used to replace vegetable oils, butter or margarine in cooking and baking; to baste meats; and in salad dressing. Use 2 tablespoons per day to achieve heart-healthy benefits.
Avoid trans fats
Trans fats lower HDL levels. Trans fats also are called partially hydrogenated fats. Pay attention to ingredients and nutrition labels on foods, and avoid those that list trans fats or partially hydrogenated fats. Trans fats are frequently found in deep-fried foods, convenience and fast foods, as well as in many baked goods. Meats contain a small amount of trans fats.
Drink alcohol in moderation
Drinking too much alcohol can raise triglycerides. A high level of triglycerides is linked
to a low level of HDL. On average, men should consume no more than two drinks per
day and women no more than one drink per day. (One drink = 12 ounces of beer
or 4 ounces of wine). There is some evidence that red wine may increase HDL;
however, given the many other risks of drinking, the American Heart Association
recommends that if you do not drink, do not start.
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