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Eating to Lower Your High Blood Cholesterol
High Blood Cholesterol
High blood cholesterol is a serious problem. Along with high blood pressure and cigarette smoking, it is one of the three major modifiable risk factors for coronary heart disease. Approximately 25 percent of the adult population 20 years of age and older has "high" blood cholesterol levels - levels that are high enough to need intensive medical attention. More than half of all adult Americans have a blood cholesterol level that is higher than "desirable."
Because high blood cholesterol is a risk to your health, you need to take steps to lower your blood cholesterol level. The best way to do this is to make sure you eat foods that are low in saturated fat and cholesterol.
What You Need to know About High Blood Cholesterol
Why Should You Know Your Blood Cholesterol Level?
There are important reasons for you to be concerned about your blood cholesterol level. Over time, cholesterol, fat, and other substances can build up on the walls of your arteries (a process called atherosclerosis) and can slow or block the flow of blood to your heart. Among many things, blood carries a constant supply of oxygen to the heart. Without oxygen, heart muscle weakens, resulting in chest pain, heart attacks, or even death. However, for many people there are no warning symptoms or signs until late in the disease process.
Heart disease is the leading cause of death in this country. Scientists have known for a long time that high blood cholesterol, high blood pressure, and smoking all increase the risk of heart disease.
Research now shows that the risk of developing atherosclerosis or coronary heart disease also increases as the blood cholesterol level increases. And it has now been proven that lowering high blood cholesterol, like controlling high blood pressure and avoiding smoking, will reduce this risk.
How High Is Your Blood Cholesterol Level?
The medical community recently set guidelines for classifying blood cholesterol levels. They advise that a total cholesterol level less than 200 mg/dl is "desirable" for adults - above 200 mg/dl the risk of coronary heart disease steadily increases.
Does Your Total Blood Cholesterol Level Increase Your Risk For Developing Coronary Heart Disease?
Desirable Blood Cholesterol - Less than
Borderline-High Blood Cholesterol
Without Other Risk Factors
With Other Risk Factors
Additional evaluation helps your physician determine more accurately your risk of coronary heart disease and make decisions about your treatment. Specifically, your doctor will probably want to measure your low density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol level - since LDL-cholesterol more accurately reflects your risk for coronary heart disease than a total cholesterol level alone. LDL-cholesterol levels of 130 mg/dl or greater increase your risk for developing coronary heart disease. After evaluating your LDL-cholesterol level and other risk factors for coronary heart disease, your physician will determine your treatment program.
What Should Your Blood Cholesterol Goal Be?
If you have high blood cholesterol or need intensive treatment because of other risk factors, your physician will probably set an LDL-cholesterol goal for you. This goal will vary depending on your overall risk and what may be a realistic goal for you. Remember, a total cholesterol level below 200 mg/dl and an LDL-cholesterol level below 130 mg/dl are desirable. Even though achieving your LDL-cholesterol goal is more important than your total cholesterol goal, your physician may choose to check your progress by measuring your total cholesterol level because it is a good deal simpler and you do not have to fast before its measurement. When you reach your total cholesterol goal, your physician will probably measure your LDL-cholesterol to confirm that you also reached your LDL-cholesterol goal.
How Does Your Blood Cholesterol Level Become High?
What you eat can raise or lower your blood cholesterol level. The average American diet of high-saturated fat, high-cholesterol foods like fatty meats, many dairy products, fried foods, cookies, cakes, and eggs contributes to high blood cholesterol.
In some countries like Japan, for example, people eat diets rich in rice, fruits, vegetables, and fish. The Japanese have lower blood cholesterol levels and lower rates of coronary heart disease than Americans. This is in part because these foods are low in fat, particularly saturated fat, which is the greatest dietary contributor to high blood cholesterol.
While diet plays an important role in raising or lowering your blood cholesterol level, inherited cholesterol tendencies also influence your level. A small percentage of people can eat a diet that is high in saturated fat and cholesterol and still maintain a low blood cholesterol level. On the other hand, there is a small percentage of people who may not be able to lower their blood cholesterol even with a low-saturated fat, low-cholesterol diet. However, both of these groups constitute a minority of the population of the United States. Most people can control their blood cholesterol levels by following a diet that is low in saturated fat and cholesterol.
Guidelines for Lowering Your High Blood Cholesterol
Eat less than 30% of your total daily calories from fat.*
Less than 10% of your calories should come from saturated fat. No more than 10% of your calories should come from polyunsaturated fat. 10-15% of your calories should come from monounsaturated fat.
Eat less than 300 mg of cholesterol each day.
Eat 50-60% of your daily calories from carbohydrates.
Adjust your caloric intake to achieve or maintain a desirable weight.
*You can calculate the percent of your total daily calories from fat with the following equations (use the numbers from food labels):
In other words, if your daily calorie need is 2,000 calories, 30% of your total daily calories from fat would equal 600 calories, or 67 grams of fat.
Remember, when you are using these equations, that not everything you eat must have fewer than 30% calories from fat, but that you should balance foods with a slightly higher fat content with foods that have a much lower fat content.
The differences between these two diets are subtle and appear to be small, but they are very important for lowering your blood cholesterol level. All of these small changes add up to big improvements in your blood cholesterol level. Take a look at the sample menus. Although the new low-fat diet has the same number of calories as the average American diet, it has much less fat. And, the sample menus show that because the fat you were eating was so calorie-rich, the new diet actually allows you to eat more food!
SAMPLE FOOD MENUS
Average American Diet (37% fat)
A New Low-Fat Diet (30% fat)
A New Low-Fat Diet (30% fat)
What Kind of Cholesterol-Lowering Success Can You Expect
Generally your blood cholesterol level should begin to drop 2 to 3 weeks after you start on a cholesterol-lowering diet. Over time, you may reduce your level 30-55 mg/dl. The reduction in your blood cholesterol level depends on several factors:
The amount of saturated fat in your diet
- If your diet is very high in saturated fats, you will probably see a
greater reduction in your cholesterol level once you start to change your
eating pattern than if your initial diet was only moderately high in saturated
Sources: National Cholesterol Education Program National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
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