Elizabeth S. Reames | 9/21/2005 1:49:12 AM
Half the male population and a third of the female population are likely to develop heart disease in their lifetimes. Whether you have heart disease or want to prevent it, you can reduce your risk for having a heart attack by lowering your blood cholesterol level, says LSU AgCenter nutritionist Dr. Beth Reames.
In observance of September as National Cholesterol Education Month, Reames advises getting a fasting lipoprotein profile to find out what your total cholesterol, LDL cholesterol, HDL cholesterol and triglyceride numbers are.
For total blood cholesterol, the desirable level is less than 200 mg/dL (milligrams per deciliter). The borderline high risk range is 200-239 mg/dL. The high-risk level is 240 mg/dL and above.
Reames says that, in general, people who have a total cholesterol level of 240 mg/dL have twice the risk of heart attack as people whose cholesterol level is 200 mg/dL.
For LDL cholesterol levels, the optimal level is less than 100 mg/dL. The near and above optimal level range is 100 to 129 mg/dL. The borderline high level is 130 to 159 mg/dL. The high level range is 160 to 189 mg/dL, and the very high level is 190 mg/dL and above.
Reames says LDL cholesterol levels are a better gauge of risk for heart attack and stroke than total blood cholesterol. The lower the LDL cholesterol level, the lower the risk.
For HDL cholesterol levels, the low level is less than 40 mg/dL, and the desirable level is 60 mg/dL and above. Reames explains that the higher figure is better in HDL levels, because higher levels of HDL are protective and help to lower your risk for heart disease.
For triglyceride levels, the normal level is less than 150 mg/dL. The borderline-high level range is 150–199 mg/dL. The high level range is 200–499 mg/dL, and the very high level is 500 mg/dL and above.
Reames says triglycerides also can raise heart disease risk. Levels that are borderline high (150-199 mg/dL) or high (200 mg/dL and above) may need treatment in some people.
"Discuss your risk for heart disease with your physician or other health care provider and take steps to reduce the risk factors that put you at risk," the nutritionist advises.
Reames recommends choosing foods that are low in saturated fat, trans fat and cholesterol. She says to check product labels.
Eating too many foods high in saturated fat may increase blood levels of LDL (bad cholesterol) and total cholesterol. High blood levels of LDL and total cholesterol are risk factors for heart disease.
Eating foods high in monounsaturated fatty acids may help lower LDL cholesterol levels and decrease risk of heart disease.
Eating polyunsaturated fats in place of saturated fats decreases LDL cholesterol levels.
Trans fatty acids act like saturated fats and raise LDL cholesterol levels. They may also lower HDL (good cholesterol) in the blood.
The nutritionist offers additional ways to observe cholesterol education month:
• Calculate your body mass index (BMI) with the BMI calculator and see how your weight measures up.
• Participate in physical activity of moderate intensity - like brisk walking - for at least 30 minutes on most, and preferably all, days of the week. Break the 30 minutes into three, 10-minute segments during the day, if you can’t do it at one time.
• Don't smoke. If you do smoke, contact your healthcare provider to discuss ways in which they can help you quit.
For information on healthy eating using the Food Guide Pyramid, contact the Extension agent in your area. For information on related family and consumer topics, click on the Family and Home link on the LSU AgCenter homepage, at www.lsuagcenter.com.