Elizabeth S. Reames | 8/27/2008 11:02:43 PM
If you don't know your cholesterol number, now is a good time to get your blood cholesterol checked and take steps to lower it if it is high, according to LSU AgCenter nutritionist Dr. Beth Reames. September is National Cholesterol Education Month.
“High blood cholesterol is a serious condition that increases risk for heart disease,” Reames said, adding, “The higher your cholesterol level, the greater the risk.” More than 65 million Americans have high blood cholesterol.
“You can have high cholesterol and not know it,” Reames noted. Lowering cholesterol levels that are too high decreases your risk for developing heart disease and reduces the chance of having a heart attack or dying of heart disease.
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. Reames suggests getting a fasting lipoprotein profile from your physician or health care provider to find out what your cholesterol numbers are. Desirable numbers are those less than 200 mg/dL (milligrams per deciliter); the borderline high risk range is 200–239 mg/dL; and high risk figures are 240 mg/dL and higher.
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.
"LDL cholesterol levels are a better gauge of risk for heart attack and stroke than total blood cholesterol," Reames said, adding, "The lower the LDL cholesterol level, the lower the risk." Optimal LDL cholesterol levels are less than 100 mg/dL, according to the National Heart Lung and Blood Institute.
HDL cholesterol (good cholesterol) levels above 60 mg/dL offer protection against heart disease. HDL cholesterol levels below 40 mg/dL increase heart disease risk.
Learn how to read a food label. Reames advises choosing foods that are low in saturated fat, trans fat and cholesterol. Eating too many foods high in saturated fat may increase blood levels of LDL ("bad" cholesterol) and total cholesterol.
Trans fatty acids act like saturated fats and raise LDL cholesterol levels. They also may lower HDL ("good" cholesterol) in the blood. 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,” Reames said. She recommends using the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s MyPyramid as a guide for healthy eating. The Web address is www.MyPyramid.gov.
Being overweight also is a risk factor for heart disease. It tends to increase your cholesterol level. Losing weight can help lower your LDL and total cholesterol levels, as well as raise your HDL and lower your triglyceride levels.
Learn what your body mass index is. The National Heart Lung and Blood Institute Web site (http://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/) has a BMI calculator to calculate your BMI, or you can ask an LSU AgCenter extension agent at your local parish office for a BMI chart.
Reames also recommends moderate-intensity physical activity, like brisk walking, for at least 30 minutes on most and, preferably, all days of the week. You can break the 30 minutes into three, 10-minute segments during the day, if you can’t do it all at one time.
Increase that time to at least 60 minutes per day to help manage body weight and prevent unhealthy weight gain. Children and adolescents need to be active for at least 60 minutes per day.
"So pry the kids off the couch and help yourself stay fit as well by doing enjoyable activities together," the nutritionist said.
Include physical activity in everyday life by using the stairs – both up and down – instead of the elevator. Start with one flight of stairs and gradually build up to more. Park a few blocks from the office or store and walk the rest of the way. If you take public transportation, get off a stop or two early and walk a few blocks. Take frequent activity breaks while working. Get up and stretch, walk around and give your muscles and mind a change of pace.
Take a brisk stroll around the neighborhood or your office building instead of eating that extra snack. Do housework, gardening or yardwork at a more vigorous pace. Walk around the airport terminal, bus station or train station rather than sitting and waiting.
Don't smoke. If you do smoke, contact your health care provider to discuss ways to help you quit.
For related nutrition topics, click on the Food and Health link on the LSU AgCenter home page at www.lsuagcenter.com. For local information and educational programs, contact an extension agent in your parish LSU AgCenter office.