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Managing Your Cholesterol

Many people these days seem to be “watching their cholesterol.” Are you one of those people? If so, did you know that doctors often recommend using food (either instead of, or in addition to, medication) to battle cholesterol issues?

If high cholesterol is an issue for you, you should consult with your doctor. But it might also be worth thinking about some concrete steps you can take on your own to help control your cholesterol numbers.

First, a quick tutorial on the numbers you get from your doctor. There are four numbers typically derived from a lipid panel: total cholesterol, LDL and HDL (you can remember the difference by thinking about L for “lousy” and H for “healthy”), and triglycerides.

For women, total cholesterol is ideally below 200mg/dL. Higher than that is considered “borderline high.”
LDL: a “near ideal” is 100mg/dL – lower is better for people at risk for heart disease.
HDL: shoot for a number of 60mg/dL and higher.
triglycerides: normal is less than 150mg/dL

So now that we know what you’re looking for, how can you get there? Adding healthful foods to your diet, and avoiding refined carbohydrates, can be an important part of the equation.

Some tips:

  • Avoid saturated fats (vegetable oil, butter, meat) *this idea is still being examined*
  • Add fish, olive oil and canola oil to your diet
  • Eat good-for-you fiber: fruits, vegetables, whole grains. Soluble fiber absorbs cholesterol. Examples include kidney beans, apples, pears, barley and prunes
  • When your glycemic load (blood sugar) goes up, your HDL goes down. To avoid this, get your carbohydrates from whole grains
  • Bulk up on your Omega-3 fatty acids: fish and fish oil, soy beans, flax seeds, tuna, walnuts, salmon, canola, broccoli
  • Nuts, especially walnuts and almonds, help lower cholesterol
  • A glass of wine a day has been shown in some studies to raise your HDL (if you already drink)
  • Green tea contains compounds that lower LDL
  • A healthy diet and regular exercise can lower triglyceride levels, improve cholesterol, and lower the risk of heart disease

Although diet plays an important role, remember that there are other ways to impact cholesterol:

  • Stop smoking
  • Exercise regularly
  • Drop excess weight

These tips will help you feel better both inside and out. And as always, check in with your doctor regularly to be sure that your numbers are moving in the right direction.