Controlling your cholesterol

cholesterol exam

Cholesterol is big news and big business these days.  We are bombarded by ads and news articles warning us of the dangers of having high cholesterol.  OK, we get it but do we understand it?  Many of the TV ads we see try to teach us about the dangers of high cholesterol by showing computer generated video of the plaque building up on the walls of arteries.

Most of us can quote the advertisers line that lowering your cholesterol will reduce your risk of heart attack or stroke.  Those ads are designed to sell you a product, a drug, in fact, with possible side effects.  Drugs meant to manipulate your body into doing what it should be doing naturally when you eat a healthy low fat diet.

Our bodies need a healthy amount of cholesterol per day of around 200 – 300mg.  Cholesterol is a substance that builds and maintains our cellular walls.  Cholesterol helps the body create membrane rafts which carry nutrients such as proteins around the body through the blood stream.  While our bodies produce all of the cholesterol it needs from the foods we eat, when we eat foods high in saturated fats like meat, dairy and processed foods, our body produces more cholesterol than it needs.

As these higher levels of cholesterol travel through the bloodstream, they attach to the arteries forming blockages that restrict blood flow.  As these blockages increase in size they can clog the artery putting your health at risk for heart disease, high blood pressure and other life-threatening medical issues.

For most people, a balanced low fat diet and staying physically active is enough to maintain a desirable cholesterol level.  For others, changes may need to be made in order to avoid levels of cholesterol that may endanger health. While taking a pill may be the easier way to lower your cholesterol level, changing your diet is still the best way to reduce those high levels.  Doctors agree that the foods we consume on a daily basis as well as our daily exercise, impact cholesterol levels as much as family history and medication.

The first step to controlling your cholesterol level is to know what your level is.  A simple blood test is all that is necessary.  This test is usually required by your doctor at your yearly physical. If your test shows your levels above 300, your doctor may tell you it is time for you to consider some changes.  Even small changes can produce positive results.    Changing your diet to a low fat diet is essential.  Adding exercise to daily activity is as well.  Now these aren’t hard changes to make and you don’t have to join a gym but you do have to stay physically active.  These are the same principles used in any weight loss program or healthy diet plan.

We all know that exercise burns fat and builds muscle.  Well, since muscles are good at helping you lose fat and calories and can be better for weight lose than cardio, so keep your muscles strong! Walking is perhaps the easiest way to keep your muscles strong thus aiding your body’s ability to fight rising cholesterol levels.  Exercise combined with a low fat diet plan will not only lower your risk of heart disease but you could lose a few unwanted pounds as well.

Changes to your diet will include avoiding foods that are high in saturated fats.  That isn’t news to anyone.  Those same ads mentioned above are full of what you should avoid eating.  Fatty meats, processed foods and junk food all top the list of foods that contribute to higher levels of cholesterol.  Instead, plan your meals to grill or roast rather than frying.  Fill your snack dish with fresh foods both fruit and vegetables.

Implement changes in your diet that reduce or replace processed foods like white bread and many snack foods with whole grains alternatives.  High fiber foods keep your insides working and moving. Portion sizes and eating less is a great way to decrease fat intake as well as choosing healthy food options to form your low fat diet plan.  Your weight plays an important role in your overall health.  Keep your weight proportionate for your height and watch your waistline.  Accumulated fat at the waistline is a sign of greater risk to heart disease and other cardiovascular diseases.

To use a known metaphor. . . . . Think of your body as a car.  The food you eat is the fuel that your car burns to drive.  If you give your car bad fuel, you will get a poor performance from your vehicle.  If you continue to feed your car bad fuel, it will eventually damage the car.  Your car is replaceable and so are the parts to it, yet we all take great care not to damage the inner workings of our cars.  Your body is not replaceable. Perhaps it is time we took greater care with our bodies and the fuel that we feed it.