September is National Cholesterol Education Month

By: Claire Chiasson, LDN, RDN, Thibodaux Regional Health System

What is cholesterol?

Cholesterol is a waxy substance that our bodies need to make certain hormones and vitamins; however, too much cholesterol in our bodies can cause health problems such as heart disease and stroke. Our liver typically makes cholesterol in the right amount we need. But one’s diet also provides dietary cholesterol through eating animal-based flesh and fat like meats, eggs, whole milk and dairy products, and butter.

Bad vs. Good Cholesterol

There are two types of blood cholesterol, known as low- density lipoproteins (LDL) and high-density lipoproteins (HDL). Low density lipoprotein is known as the “bad” cholesterol because it contributes to fatty buildups in the arteries; these buildups cause blockages throughout the body. High density lipoproteins are known as “good” because they carry the LDL away from the arteries and back to the liver to be eliminated.

Benefits of reducing cholesterol

Studies show that lowering LDL cholesterol and increasing HDL cholesterol reduces the risk of cardiovascular death, heart attacks, stroke, and the need for surgical cardiac interventions.

Tips for achieving healthy cholesterol levels through diet and lifestyle

Consume adequate soluble fiber. Soluble fiber helps trap dietary cholesterol in the GI tract, preventing it from being absorbed into the bloodstream, therefore lowering cholesterol levels. Foods high in soluble fiber include whole grains like oats and 100% whole grain cereal; legumes such as lima beans, kidney beans, and lentils; and fruits such as apples, bananas, oranges, and pears.

Decrease intake of saturated and trans fats. These unhealthy fats cause the liver to produce too much cholesterol. Saturated fats are found mainly in animal products such as whole milk; full-fat cheese; fatty meats like bacon, sausage, hot dogs, and fried foods; chocolate; and baked goods. Trans fats are found mainly in foods that contain hydrogenated and partially hydrogenated oils like fried foods, stick margarine, and pastries. Replace these bad fats with healthy, unsaturated fats such as avocado, nuts, seeds, and nut butters, and with certain oils such as olive, canola, and avocado oil.

Quit smoking. Smoking lowers HDL levels and increases LDL levels.

Be physically active. Raise good HDL cholesterol through moderate physical activity such as walking, bike riding, and resistance training for a total of 150 minutes per week.

Lose weight if overweight. Carrying even a few extra pounds can contribute to high cholesterol. Therefore, consider reducing portion sizes of unhealthy foods and beverages while increasing physical activity.

Healthy Food Choices when eating out

Choose foods that have been cooked with healthier methods such as grilled, baked, steamed, or poached instead of fried foods. Replace French fries with a side salad, vegetables, or a baked potato. Ask for salad dressings and sauces to be placed on the side to control portions of fat. Choose beverages wisely, and drink water instead of high-calorie soft drinks or sugar-sweetened teas.

For more information or to meet with a dietitian, call Thibodaux Regional Wellness Education Center at 985-493-4765.