If you’ve Googled heart health, you probably found something about cholesterol. Maybe you’ve heard that all cholesterol is bad. Maybe you’ve heard that some foods help lower your cholesterol while others increase it. All of this is true, but doesn’t explain the overall importance of cholesterol. In fact, cholesterol doesn’t only affect your heart. It plays a key role in producing certain hormones, vitamins, and cells. It’s part of keeping optimal body function, so the “avoid all cholesterol!” panic can be detrimental to your health. Balance is the name of the game here. Let’s dive deeper into exactly what cholesterol is, what it does, and how it plays a role in your health!
Cholesterol is a waxy substance floating around in your bloodstream. It’s produced and released into your body by the cells in your liver. The liver makes all the cholesterol you need, but it isn’t the only way you get it.
The other way your body receives cholesterol is through diet. For example, some foods high in dietary cholesterol include meat, poultry, dairy, some oils, and foods rich in saturated or trans fat. Foods that have both dietary cholesterol and high levels of saturated and/or trans fat are of particular concern. This is because these fats trigger the liver to make more cholesterol than it otherwise would.
So Is It All Bad?
Not exactly. As mentioned above, your body needs some cholesterol to perform some of its natural processes like creating cell membranes, hormones, and processing certain vitamins such as Vitamin D.
However, there are two types of cholesterol, and one is traditionally thought of as “bad” while the other is thought of as “good”.
The bad cholesterol that your doctor may ask about is Low Density Lipoproteins or (LDL). It’s not quite all bad since LDL does carry cholesterol to parts of the body. However, when there’s too much LDL – that’s a problem. LDL can cause plaque buildup in your arteries. It acts as a roadblock for blood traveling around. This may lead to increased risk of stroke since the blockage doesn’t allow for sufficient oxygen to the brain. It can also lead to heart disease because your heart has to work harder to transport blood through the body. It essentially wears out your heart. Plus, a plaque build-up in the artery can cause a blood clot to form. This blocks blood from part of your heart, which damages the heart tissue, and a heart attack results. All in all – you’ll want to keep your LDL in check, which is why it should be often measured by a trusted health provider.
The good cholesterol is called High Density Lipoproteins or (HDL). It’s considered good because it removes bad cholesterol from your bloodstream. This helps prevent plaque build-up on the artery walls which may lead to blood clots and all sorts of trouble. Maintaining your HDL in a healthy range will help improve your overall cholesterol score.
What’s A Cholesterol Score?
The cholesterol score measures LDL (bad cholesterol), HDL (good cholesterol), and triglyceride levels in your blood. Triglycerides are fat that’s stored all over the body. It can be an energy source, like carbs for example, but having too much of this fat is problematic. That’s because triglycerides are packaged alongside cholesterol, so it can float around in your bloodstream and contribute to plaque and blood clots. If you have an overall healthy cholesterol score, you’re less likely to suffer from heart disease or increase risk of stroke, so make sure you speak with your doctor!
What Can I Do To Improve My Cholesterol?
Now that you know all about good and bad cholesterol, let’s discuss what you can do to keep your heart healthy. Thankfully, there are several lifestyle changes that can benefit your heart!
- Heart Your Diet! Maintaining a balanced healthy diet is a serious game changer for heart health. Try including heart-healthy foods like those rich in omega-3 fatty acids and soluble fiber. Omega-3 fatty acids do not directly affect LDL levels (bad cholesterol), but they do provide other heart benefits like lowering blood pressure. This reduces your risk of developing heart disease. Soluble fiber can actually reduce the absorption of cholesterol in your bloodstream. This makes it less likely you’ll develop plaque build-up in arteries which can lead to blood clots.
- Omega-3 Foods: salmon, mackerel, herring, walnuts, and flaxseeds.
- Soluble fiber rich foods: Black beans, lima beans, brussel sprouts, avocados, sweet potatoes, broccoli, pears, kidney beans, and figs!
- Mind Your Fats: Not all fats are made the same, and some are seriously harmful to your health.Try reducing your saturated fat intake as these can increase your overall cholesterol score. Also, work to eliminate trans fat from your diet as much as possible. Note that this is sometimes called “partially hydrogenated vegetable oil” on some food labels. It makes it sound healthier, but it still wreaks havoc on cholesterol levels. Trans fat (or partially hydrogenated vegetable oils) raise LDL (bad cholesterol) and lower HDL (good cholesterol), which is exactly the opposite of what you want. In fact, the FDA (Food and Drug Administration) has recently banned the use of trans fat in the U.S! Keep an eye out for foods rich in these fats. Here’s just a couple places they might show up:
- Saturated Fats: Red meat, processed meats, cheese, and whole dairy products such as milk and butter.
- Trans fats: Fried foods are some of the biggest contributors of trans fat, as well as microwave popcorn, frozen meals, shortening, some baked goods (because of the margarine used in them), and non-dairy coffee creamer. When looking for some movie night snacks, make sure to check those nutrition labels! Opt for healthier choices like a little dark chocolate, homemade air-popped popcorn, and fruits! If pizza is a movie-night staple, try making your own following a healthy recipe.
- Get Moving! Moderate physical activity can actually raise your HDL (good cholesterol). Check with your doctor and try to incorporate some exercise into your week. You don’t have to run weekly marathons to gain the benefits either. Try starting out with a daily 30 minutes of exercise at least five times a week. It can be something as simple as going for a nice walk, biking as your form of commute, or taking up your favorite sport!
- Dump the Smokes
- The benefits of quitting smoking are huge. Not only does it help improve your cholesterol score, but it can also help your blood circulation and lung function. Plus, in just a year, your risk of heart disease can be cut in half from that of a current smoker. There are many resources to help quit smoking, if you choose to take that step. Try finding something that works for you which allows you the space to grow, be kind to yourself, and build towards optimal health.
- Manage A Healthy Weight
- Being at an unhealthy weight can increase your cholesterol levels. Try getting to or maintaining a healthy weight! Even small changes add up like cutting back on sugary snacks and drinks (which are also bad on their own), eating more fruits and veggies, and going on daily walks!
- Easy On The Drinks
- If you drink alcohol, make sure to stick to moderate consumption. That’s about one drink a day for a woman and two drinks for a man under the age of 65. Men older than 65 should stick to a drink a day or less. Remember that alcohol also contributes to your caloric intake! Make sure you’re eating nutritious food and managing a healthy weight too. This includes paying attention to your calorie intake. You want to stick to a healthy amount of calories per day, allowing your body to work at its best while maintaining a healthy weight.
How Can FK Help Me?
We tackle one of the primary lifestyle changes that influence heart health: nutrition. Our meal plans are designed to optimize nutrition through delicious food. This means you’ll get all of the good stuff your body needs, while cutting out toxic ingredients like, for example – trans fat.
We offer two methods of meal planning. First, we have our FK Delivery Meal Plans. These are offered to those within the Phoenix, AZ area. These meal plans are created and delivered to clients based on an agreed upon schedule. Our FK Delivery Meal Plans Include:
- Autoimmune Protocol
Each one provides nutrient-dense, delicious, wholesome meals designed to optimize your health! If you’re not around, no worries. We also have Online Meal Plans! Our FK Online Meal plans are customized to fit your needs and goals. The plans are sent via email with an in-depth explanation of meal prepping instructions, ingredients list, and even a shopping list! You can work towards optimized health right from the comfort of your kitchen. The FK Online Meal Plans include:
Plus, our plans help with more than just heart health. They are designed to help:
- Reduce inflammation
- Improve energy levels
- Improve focus
- Improve gut health
- Detox the body
- Rebalance your body with all the nutrients it needs to be healthy
If you want to know more about FK meal plans, head over to our website.
Stay tuned for more blogs about keeping your heart healthy!