September is National Cholesterol Education Month, but maintaining healthy cholesterol levels is a year round health concern. Cholesterol is a white (waxy, fat-like) substance found in human and animal tissue and various foods. Cholesterol is a necessary part of cell membranes. But too much cholesterol in the bloodstream can cause blockages in the walls of arteries. Those blockages can lead to heart disease, heart attacks, or strokes. Only one-third of the millions of Americans with high cholesterol have the condition under control. Cardiovascular disease remains the number one cause of death for both men and women in the United States.
High-density lipoprotein (HDL) is considered to be "good" cholesterol. Low-density lipoprotein (LDL) is considered to be "bad" cholesterol. People with "high cholesterol" have too much LDL cholesterol. Many people with high cholesterol don't know it. Screening is the only way to detect the problem. A blood test can determine one's cholesterol level. Adults over the age of 20 should have their cholesterol checked at least every 5 years. Individuals with any of the following problems should have their cholesterol checked more frequently.
- A total cholesterol of 200 mg/dL or higher
- Men over 45
- Women over 50
- An HDL cholesterol lower than 40mg/dL
- Individuals with other risk factors for heart disease or stroke
- Not smoking or quitting smoking
- Maintaining a healthy weight
- Exercising regularly
- Eating a healthy diet
- Consuming plant sterols
Diet choices that contribute to having healthy cholesterol levels include avoiding saturated fats and trans fats. Eating plenty of fiber helps to control cholesterol. Eating foods containing plant sterols has been shown to help lower cholesterol. The best dietary sources of plant sterols are vegetables, seeds, and nuts. Because plant sterols are chemically similar to cholesterol, they are able to block cholesterol from being absorbed by the intestines. This lowers the amount of low-density lipoprotein (LDL) in the blood. (Consult a medical professional if there are concerns about side effects from consuming plant sterols. Infants, children, pregnant women, and breastfeeding women are advised to avoid plant-sterol enriched foods because individuals in those groups tend to be sensitive to changes in carotene levels.)
- VitaBrownies (100 Calorie)
- Vita Top Muffins
- Corazonas Oatmeal Snack Squares
- Corazonas Tortilla Chips
All adults should know their cholesterol numbers. If a screening ever indicates that there is a problem with HDL or LDL numbers, a medical professional should be consulted and regular screenings should be done. Controlling cholesterol levels can mean the difference between life and death.
The information included in this article is for educational purposes only. It is not intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. The reader should always consult his or her healthcare provider to determine the appropriateness of the information for their own situation, or if they have any questions regarding a medical condition or treatment plan.