In the past few months, I have done hundreds and hundreds of lipid panels on clients wanting to know how their “numbers” are looking. Sadly, I have been astounded at the high levels of cholesterol that seem so common among today’s American culture. While you may not feel in danger because of your numbers, it is important to educate yourself about what you can do to improve them and also stay healthier – so you live longer and enjoy life to a fuller extent. This information is also vital to know so you can share it with loved ones who might be in danger of sudden death or an heart attack and not even know it.
While cholesterol gets a bad wrap, it actually is very important in the body. If you are taking care of your body by eating right and exercising regularly, cholesterol will actually help you in many ways. After all, God built our bodies so that they produce cholesterol on their own!
Your liver produces about 1-2 grams of cholesterol a day. But just like anything else in your body, if you consume too much cholesterol in your diet, your liver stops producing to keep your cholesterol as balanced as it can. Unfortunately, the typical American diet includes too many foods that are high in cholesterol and low in foods that help balance cholesterol, thus throwing your body in a state of havoc.
What does cholesterol do?
Cholesterol helps produce bile in your body that breaks down food and helps in the process of digestion. It also helps your body produce Vitamin D, along with other important minerals. Cholesterol also helps in muscle building and repairing. It is also the basis for many hormones, namely your sex hormones. Lastly, it’s super important in forming your cell membranes (the part that keeps them protected from viruses, bacteria and other unwanted visitors)!
What is HDL and LDL?
HDL is known as good cholesterol. It’s job is to pick up all the extra cholesterol in your body and take it to the liver to use or break it down. LDL, known as bad cholesterol, takes cholesterol from the liver and puts it around the body where it is needed. Both HDL and LDL have important jobs in the body.
What should my cholesterol levels be?
Everyone’s body is different, but on average I recommend keeping your cholesterol around 150 and here’s why:
- Having a cholesterol of 210 predicts a 50% chance or premature death due to atherosclerosis (fat build up in your arteries, clogging and stopping your blood flow).
- If you’re working to keep your cholesterol at 200, you might see a small increase and not feel like it’s much of a threat. Going from 200 to 260 literally increases your chance of death by 500%. That’s a big number!
- A Framingham study showed that no one has died of cardiovascular disease who had a cholesterol level below 150.
- The same Framingham study also found that 35% of heart attacks occurred in the 151 – 200 cholesterol range. Yikes.
So let’s play it safe and aim low.
Here’s a neat diagram from Precision Nutrition that is easy to follow and make sense of where your cholesterol levels are:
What foods are bad to eat if you have high cholesterol?
You want to avoid trans fats and most animal meats. I have found that grass-fed, organic or naturally raised animal meats don’t have much cholesterol in them compared to other processed meats. Trans fats you can find in most packaged foods and baked goods, margarine, fried foods, biscuits, crackers, microwave popcorn, french fries, anything fried or battered, shortening, ice cream and most desserts. When you’re checking food labels, don’t be fooled by “no cholesterol” or “cholesterol free” labels – instead, look for trans or saturated fats listed on the nutrition label.
A lot of recent research has shown that eggs are still a great source of food for the body. They are actually very low in cholesterol and don’t have the other ingredients for disaster that cause cholesterol build up. They have actually been found to have some components that are actually beneficial to the body, it’s metabolism, and your arteries. Because of their good protein source, they can help you to lose weight while you’re working on lowering your cholesterol. Lastly, I always recommend Pastured Eggs or at least omega-3 eggs so you’re putting in a good, clean source into your body. Eggs that are not natural and pumped full of hormones can have a lot of other problems they carry. So if you’re an egg lover – you’re still ok to eat them, just buy a clean source.
What foods help lower cholesterol?
Interestingly enough, cutting out meats but not dairy and egg products can still lower your cholesterol levels by 16%. If you choose to go meatless and eat a plant-based diet with a lot of nutrient dense foods, you can decrease your cholesterol by 33% (which is lower than the help of statin drugs – God knew what He was doing when he put plants on the earth!).
Research shows that individuals who eat 10 servings of fruits and veggies daily will lower their cholesterol levels significantly. That might sound like a lot, but a little here and there throughout the day is doable and might end up saving your life in the end.
Other foods to include in your diet that have been researched and proven to lower cholesterol include: nuts, seeds, and legumes. Many spices and herbs also have powerful effects in lowering your cholesterol. The top 3 would be ginger, garlic and curcumin – all of which actually block cholesterol uptake in the digestive process and help the body expel the excess cholesterol through your expulsion.
What are other things I can to do help keep my cholesterol under control?
1 – Take fish oil! Omega 3 supplements are extremely helpful in cleaning up your arteries and decreasing your LDL.
2 – Lose some weight! Did you know weight loss is actually more effective at lowering cholesterol than statin drugs? Yes, it is more work, but your body will thank you (and so will your wardrobe).
3 – Exercise at least 5 times a week. The best combination for lowering your cholesterol includes mixing up your workouts with cardio, intervals, strength, and stretching.
4 – Take a good vitamin daily. Giving your body the nutrients it needs will help to keep it strong and healthy. Vitamins will also aid your body in getting rid of the unwanted levels of fat, sugars or other harmful toxins that are blocking your body’s ability to use cholesterol properly.
Fun Facts to Get You Going (all from Precision Nutrition)
- 1 in 3 North Americans have high cholesterol.
- Over 200 million prescriptions for cholesterol lowering drugs were written in the year 2008, which has only increased since then.
- If you decrease your LDL cholesterol by 1%, you decrease your chance of cardiovascular death by 2% to 3%.
- If you increase your HDL by 1 mg/dl, you decrease your chance of cardiovascular death by 2% to 3%.
- Some experts claim that nearly all people over the age of 40 who are sedentary and eat a Standard American Diet are found to have a significant amount of atherosclerosis in their coronary arteries.
Catch ya later,