Heart disease is a scary thing. In the face of dire risk factor statistics and horror stories about cholesterol, you can easily get rattled. You might feel overwhelmed by the whole cholesterol question, and feel like you face uninformed life and death decisions every time you sit down at the table.
But reducing your risk of heart disease is not an impossible task. All it takes is a few simple adjustments.
Your cholesterol level is determined by several factors, including your genetic makeup, your diet, and certain lifestyle choices. You can’t do anything about genes passed down from Grandpa Charlie, but you can change your future with a few new, heart-friendly lifestyle choices.
The list below contains several strategies to help you develop cholesterol-smart, heart-healthy habits. These nutritional do’s and don’ts won’t have you feeling deprived, or require you to train for a marathon. They will, however, make your heart very happy. And a happy heart has nothing to be afraid of.
DO watch your cholesterol intake. Dietary cholesterol (the cholesterol you eat) may raise blood cholesterol levels. Limit dietary cholesterol to 300 milligrams a day.
DO limit the fat in your diet. A diet rich in fat encourages weight gain and may lead to elevated blood cholesterol levels.
DON’T eliminate all fat from your diet. You need some fat in your diet for good health. Fat adds pleasure to your meal and makes you feel satisfied after the meal. Fat also gives flavor, texture, and moisture to food.
DO choose olive oil and canola oil for salad dressing, sautéing vegetables, cooking and baking. They are rich in monounsaturated fat, the heart healthy fat.
DON’T forego seeds and nuts, like almonds, walnuts, pecans, and peanuts. These are high in the healthy monounsaturated fats. A small handful 3-5 times a week can help prevent heart disease and increase your HDL (high density lipoprotein, the good cholesterol) levels.
DO find more soluble fiber. Soluble fiber may help lower blood cholesterol levels. It is found in oats, rice, bran, barley, dried peas and beans, and certain fruits like prunes and apples.
DON’T overlook complex carbohydrates. Complex carbs are rich in fiber, vitamins and minerals. Choose more whole grain breads and cereals, pasta, brown rice, and dried beans and peas. Enjoy fruits and vegetables more often.
DON’T overindulge in salt. High blood pressure is associated with a diet high in sodium. Check labels carefully and watch the amount of salt you use in cooking and at the table.
DO cut back on trans fatty acids. Trans fatty acids are formed during the process of hydrogenation, which makes a fat more saturated and extends its shelf life. Avoid the term “partially hydrogenated vegetable oil” on the ingredient list of margarines, as well as packaged foods, cookies and crackers.
DON’T forget to go fishing. Fish rich in Omega-3 fatty acids, is good for cholesterol. It is recommended to eat at least 6-8 ounces of baked or broiled fish each week. Salmon, mackerel, tuna, and halibut are excellent sources.
OTHER HEART HEALTHY TIPS:
DON’T smoke. Smoking is a major risk factor for heart disease. It decreases your HDL (high density lipoprotein, the good cholesterol) levels.
DO get moving. Physical activity is an important part of a heart-healthy routine. It can also help you control your weight and lower your blood pressure. Shoot for at least 30 minutes of activity every day.
DO lose weight, if you are overweight. People who maintain a healthful weight (a BMI of 18-24) are not only less likely to develop heart disease, but also high blood pressure and diabetes. Lose unwanted pounds by eating fewer calories and increasing your physical activity on a regular basis.
DON’T forget to know your numbers. Get your blood cholesterol levels checked yearly.