The number of people who have high blood
cholesterol seems to be growing each day. Poor eating habits are
one of the main contributors to this problem. One of the reasons
for this is that people are not eating at home as often. Instead,
they are eating at fast food restaurants or grabbing unhealthy
foods while on the road. These types of choices can lead to a
higher consumption of saturated fats and cholesterol.
Having a high blood cholesterol level can lead to serious consequences, such as having a heart attack. If you have already been told you have a high cholesterol level, it is advisable for you to have a blood test every 6 months to assess any changes. Total cholesterol should not be higher than 200 mg/dl, and LDL or “bad” cholesterol should be lower than 150 mg/dl.
The American Heart Association recommends a maximum of 300 mg of dietary cholesterol each day and less than 7% of total calories from saturated fats (generally, fats that remain solid at room temperature). These recommendations can help you keep your blood cholesterol levels normal. Try to keep your total fat intake between 25 and 35% of calories, with most fats coming from sources of monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats (fats that are typically liquid at room temperature) such as fish, nuts, seeds and vegetable oils.
Your diet should include at least 10 to 25 grams of soluble fiber, which is found in oats, psyllium, barley, linseed, beans, carrots, oranges, and apples. These foods are also rich in beta-glucan, a substance that helps to reduce blood cholesterol.
Other heart-healthy foods are: fatty fish, nuts, and plant sterols. Among fatty fish are: salmon, tuna, sardines, and herring. Omega 3 fatty acids are responsible for the decrease in blood cholesterol. Nuts are also rich in omega 3; and they are a good source of fiber, vitamin E, selenium, and sterols. The recommended seeds include: peanuts, pistachios, almonds, and pecans. Since they are very high in calories, try not to eat more than 1.5 oz each day (a small handful).
Plant sterols are substances that naturally “block” intestinal absorption of cholesterol. These compounds are found in some margarine spreads and salad dressings. The recommended daily intake of these sterols is 2 grams.
Exercise is another important factor to promote heart health. It contributes to losing weight and to keeping blood cholesterol within normal values by helping to increase “good” cholesterol and reducing “bad” cholesterol. This is why it is very important for you to practice at least 30 minutes of exercise, five days per week, besides following the previous recommendations.
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