I have spent most of my career working with cardiac patients with various related heart conditions, some of which include high cholesterol, coronary artery disease, and Ankylosing Spondylitis (AS). While there are many risks for heart disease which we cannot modify, there are various modifiable risks that can affect the heart as well. Since we are able to control these modifiable risks, it will be important to make the best choices in regard to them to promote optimal heart health. Read on to find out more—and to ensure your health and the health of others, don't miss these Sure Signs You've Already Had COVID.
Eat More Fiber
Diet is so important for helping my patients overcome, manage or in some cases even prevent high cholesterol which can, in turn, help them maintain their overall health and well-being. There are many aspects of diet that can promote not only a healthy lifestyle but also help maintain one's cholesterol.
Oftentimes when we think of preventing high cholesterol, we think of foods we shouldn't eat. While there are some foods that if we limit, we can see improvement in cholesterol there are some foods that if we consume daily, we see positive effects on our blood work. One of these foods is fiber.
Fiber will help to transport "bad cholesterol" to the liver where it will then be broken down. Fiber typically comes from fruits and vegetables as well as grains (such as bread, pasta, rice, and cereal). When speaking about fiber and grains it is important to make sure we are choosing whole wheat grains to ensure they are fiber-rich. Examples include whole-wheat bread/pasta/rice. Other fiber-rich grains include oatmeal, quinoa, and barley.
Limit Refined Sugar
By choosing these fiber-rich items you will also be limiting refined sugars — this can have another added benefit on lab work as refined sugars increase the risk for elevated triglycerides. High triglyceride levels are associated with coronary heart disease. Beans, lentils, and legumes also contain fiber. When looking at the food label it is a good idea to attempt to choose foods with 6grams of fiber per serving. Daily fiber intake for women should be around 25grams, and daily intake for men should be able 30grams.
Stay Away From Saturated Fat
Staying away from saturated fat can also help to show improved cholesterol levels. You may hear saturated fat is referred to as "bad fat." The reason for this is that it can increase your bad cholesterol, also known as LDL (low-density lipoproteins). It can also lower your "good cholesterol" otherwise known as HDL (high-density lipoproteins). Common sources of saturated fat are full fat/whole fat milk/cheese, red meat/pork, butter/margarine, tropical oils, and the skin of poultry. Alternatives to the items mentioned above include low fat/skim dairy products, almond milk, skinless poultry, fish, olive oil, or vegetable oils. If red meat is consumed opt for mostly lean red meat or a choice/select cut of meat. If pork is consumed aim for a center lion cut. Look out for some kinds of butter and mayo which replace the bad fat with good fat — some of these products are now made with soybean oil, avocado oil, or olive oil. When buying such products trans fat should be 0 grams and Saturday fat should be 2.5grams or less per serving. In total, The American Heart Association recommends aiming for a dietary pattern that achieves 5-6% of calories from saturated fat per day.
Limit These Items
Consider limiting your daily cholesterol intake. While the body does need some cholesterol too much can result in negative health effects. The body does naturally make cholesterol, while we also can get cholesterol (or rather dietary cholesterol) from various foods. Too much cholesterol can increase the risk for stroke and Atherosclerosis. People will respond differently to dietary cholesterol and unfortunately, there is no way to determine who will respond in which way. For this reason, it may be wise to err on the side of caution and limit cholesterol intake if you personally have high cholesterol, or if you have a family history of cholesterol. Aim to consume no more than 200mg/day of cholesterol. Foods that contain cholesterol include egg yolks, organ meat (such as liver), and shellfish (such as shrimp, lobster, oysters, or mussels). Consider eating egg yolks no more than 2-3 times per week and limiting shellfish intake to 2 times per week.
Eat More Veggies
Make sure to be including plant sterols and plant stanols into your diet. Sterols and stanols are found in plants and can help to block the absorption of cholesterol. They can be found naturally in many foods however in small amounts. They are naturally in vegetable oils, nuts, seeds, and whole grains. Various foods are now fortified (or enriched) with sterols/stanols. These foods include orange juice, cereals, and different breakfast bars. Ideally to get the most benefits one should consume about 2grams of sterols/stanols per day.
It is also important to keep in mind the benefits of an active lifestyle on heart health. Exercise will benefit our overall cardiovascular function. It also will help to promote weight loss which in turn will also positively affect cardiovascular function (safe and effective long-term weight loss usually comes in the form of losing about 1-2 pounds per week, anything more than that is not sustainable for the long term weight loss maintenance). Having a less active or rather sedentary lifestyle can also increase the chances of having raised LDL. The American Heart Association recommends at least 150 mins per week of moderate-intensity aerobic exercise. Aerobic exercise is defined as physical activity that increases the heart rate and the body's use of oxygen – often referred to a cardio workout. Examples of this include brisk walking, running, bike riding, swimming, and dancing. For those who aim to have a less sedentary lifestyle, it is a good idea to keep time spent sitting or ideal to about 30 mins — this means if you are sitting for 30 minutes get up if possible. And to protect your life and the lives of others, don't visit any of these 35 Places You're Most Likely to Catch COVID.
Nicole Roach is a registered dietitian with five years of experience. She works at Lenox Hill Hospital.