August 31, 1998
Volume 51, No. 2
Keeping cholesterol in check isn't as difficult as you might think
Did you know humans require cholesterol to live? It is essential for the construction of cell membranes, protection of nerve cells, and production of certain hormones. In fact, our bodies produce about 1,000 milligrams of cholesterol every day to meet these needs. So why are Americans urged to keep cholesterol levels low? Because too much cholesterol in the blood can cause serious health problems like atherosclerosis and heart disease.
There are two types of blood cholesterol: low-density lipoproteins (LDL) and high-density lipoproteins (HDL). Low-density lipoproteins are the "bad" cholesterol. When there is more LDL cholesterol in the bloodstream than the body needs, the surplus is deposited in the arteries. Atherosclerosis begins as cholesterol accumulates there and the vessels harden and thicken, losing their elastic quality.
Because cholesterol deposits reduce the diameter of the arteries, the amount of blood that can pass through the vessel is restricted. Less blood flowing means less oxygen delivered to tissues. If the oxygen-deprived tissues are in the heart or brain, a heart attack or stroke can occur. A LDL level of less than 130 mg/dL is recommended to help keep plaque build-up in the arteries at a minimum.
High-density lipoproteins are the "good" cholesterol. HDL carry cholesterol to the liver where it is excreted as bile or recycled. HDL can even remove existing plaque from the artery wall, thereby lessening atherosclerosis and reversing heart disease. HDL levels should be 35 mg/dL or greater to help reduce these risks.
A desirable total cholesterol level is less than 200 mg/dL. Unfortunately, 51 percent of American adults, or 96.8 million people, have cholesterol levels greater than this, placing them at risk. If this applies to you, these suggestion may help lower your blood cholesterol:
Reduce the amount of saturated fat in your diet. Saturated fats actually signal the liver to produce more cholesterol. These types of fats are solid at room temperature and are found in lard, butter, cheese, meat and milk. To lower saturated fat in your diet, avoid fatty cuts of meat and whole-milk dairy products. Instead, choose fruits, vegetables and whole grain foods.
Substitute unsaturated fats for saturated fats. Unsaturated fats turn into oil at room temperature and do not raise blood cholesterol. In fact, some studies have shown that unsaturated fats actually lower blood cholesterol. Try to use olive, corn and sunflower oils instead of lard and butter. However, beware of coconut and palm oils-although they are liquid at room temperature, both are very high in saturated fat.
Eat more veggies. Limit daily intake of lean meat, fish and poultry to six ounces.
Exercise. Physical activity raises the HDL levels and lowers LDL to help prevent heart disease.
The National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute recommends that adults over 20 have their cholesterol checked at least once every five years. Are you past due? September is National Cholesterol Education Month and a great time to get your blood cholesterol measured. The Office of Health Promotions in the 1525 Building will host a low-cholesterol cooking demonstration/seminar Friday, Sept. 18, from noon to 1 p.m. The cost is $3, and you can preregister with Jane Alexander at 404-778-2858. Hope to see you there!
A graduate of the University of Georgia, Kristi Richardson interned this past summer in the Office of Health Promotion.
"Wellness" is coordinated by the Office of Health Promotion of the Rollins School of Public Health.