Thursday, February 26, 2015

Cholesterol and Heart Health

February is American Heart Health Month, so we are looking at lifestyle changes you can make to be more heart healthy.

Today we are focusing on healthy dietary choices to be more heart healthy. A diet moderate in fat can help keep your heart healthy. Yesterday we discussed the importance of the types of dietary fat you choose. For more on saturated, monounsaturated, polyunsaturated, and trans fats, check on this post on dietary fats and heart health.

Cholesterol is found in foods with a liver. Common sources of cholesterol in the typical American diet include animal proteins (beef, chicken, etc), eggs, and full fat dairy products.

The Dietary Guidelines recommend limiting cholesterol to < 300 milligrams per day for a healthy person without heart disease; the recommendation is stricter, <200 milligrams cholesterol per day, for individuals with high blood cholesterol levels or a history of heart disease. 

Did you know that a whole egg has almost 200 milligrams of cholesterol? A large egg white has no cholesterol! Recent research has shown that dietary intake of saturated fat and trans fat has a bigger influence on your blood cholesterol levels than dietary cholesterol intake. 

If you have high blood cholesterol levels, there are simple dietary choices you can make to lower your cholesterol levels. You can replace foods high in saturated or trans fat with foods containing PUFA (polyunsaturated fatty acids) and MUFA (monounsaturated fatty acids) to help lower your blood cholesterol levels.

Blood Cholesterol Goals (milligrams/deciliter)
Total Cholesterol < 200
Triglycerides < 150
LDL (low density lipoprotein) cholesterol <100
HDL (high density lipoprotein) cholesterol > or = 60

What affects blood cholesterol?
Blood cholesterol levels are affected by genetics. Blood cholesterol levels are also influences by the amount and type of dietary fats consume. Saturated fats and trans fats have been shown to raise blood cholesterol more than dietary cholesterol. But intake of dietary cholesterol does matter and can affect blood cholesterol. 

Diet and physical activity choices are modifiable risk factors for heart disease. Lifestyle choices, like being physically active, affect your blood cholesterol levels. Increasing physical activity can raise HDL or good cholesterol levels. A high HDL has a negative association with heart disease. Eating a healthy diet and replacing food sources high in saturated or trans fat with food choices with PUFA (polyunsaturated fatty acids) and MUFA (monounsaturated fatty acids) can lower your LDL. You have control over your diet and lifestyle choices. And, you can lower your risk of heart disease by making healthy diet choices and increasing your physical activity level.

If you have a family history of high blood pressure, high cholesterol, or heart attack (myocardial infarctions), please check in with your doctor to get a physical. Tell your doctor your family history of heart disease, your concerns for your health, and ask about what screening you should do. Please talk to your personal RD or MD before starting a new diet or physical activity regimen.

We will continue to go through each of the dietary and lifestyle topics this week to discover how you can be heart healthy. Tomorrow we are discussing fiber and heart health. Stay tuned.

So, how can you be heart healthy? 
- Eat a Healthy Diet
- Be Physically Active
- Check in with Your Doctor

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