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Special activities at the Harris School help convey healthy lifestyle habits

cholesterol awarenessSpecial activities at the Harris School help convey healthy lifestyle habits

Did you know that September is Cholesterol Awareness Month?* In observance of this month, students at the Harris School of Business—where many of our career training programs are in the field of healthcare—are learning about a variety of healthy lifestyle habits. One class even held a treasure hunt where they found a number of heart-healthy foods hidden around the classroom.

Why is cholesterol awareness important? It is important because having too much cholesterol in your blood is one of the risk factors for heart disease and stroke. Getting your cholesterol checked and treated is one way to help prevent these diseases.

How do you get your cholesterol level checked?

Cholesterol screening is done by a simple blood test that your doctor can order. The test measures both your “good” cholesterol and your “bad” cholesterol. The high-density lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol is considered “good,” while the low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol is considered “bad.” When doctors talk about having high cholesterol, they are talking mainly about the “bad” LDL cholesterol.

What can you do to help prevent high cholesterol?

If you have high cholesterol, you should be under the care of a physician. A physician can help you determine the best lifestyle changes to make, and may possibly prescribe medicine to help control your “bad” cholesterol. But whether or not your cholesterol is high, there are healthy lifestyle choices that everyone can make:

1. Healthy Diet: Try to aim for a diet that is low in saturated fats and trans-saturated (trans) fats, since these types of fats can raise cholesterol levels in your blood. Polyunsaturated fats are better, and can actually lower cholesterol levels. Eating fiber can also help lower the “bad” cholesterol. Read more about examples of heart-healthy foods below.

2. Regular Exercise. Regular exercise can help lower your cholesterol levels. The Center for Disease Control (CDC) recommends that adults get at least 2 ½ hours of moderate-intensity exercise each week. If you are currently not exercising much or at all, you may want to consult your doctor about a safe, healthy exercise regimen.

3. Healthy weight. Keeping your weight in check is another way to help maintain healthy cholesterol levels. If you need to lose weight, switching to a healthier diet and incorporating exercise into your life should help you get started. If you are overweight, you may want to talk to your doctor about the healthiest way to reach your target weight.

4. Not smoking. Smoking is also connected to high cholesterol levels. If you smoke and are finding it hard to quit, ask your doctor about smoking cessation programs that may help.

What are some foods to avoid?

Certain foods contribute to high cholesterol more than others. Foods that are high in saturated fats and trans-saturated fats are the main culprits. Here are some suggestions for creating a heart-healthy diet:

  • Limit butter, shortening, and lard. Try using olive oil or canola oil instead.
  • Avoid packaged foods that contain partially hydrogenated oils (read the ingredients on the labels).
  • Limit fatty meats, such as fatty cuts of beef or pork, as well as processed meats such as hot dogs, bacon, and sausage. Try leaner cuts of meat instead. When eating poultry, avoid eating the skin.
  • Reduce your portion size of all meats. Remember that a single serving is roughly the size of a deck of cards.
  • Limit egg yolks. Try just using the egg whites instead.
  • Limit milk products with more than 1% milk fat, including cream, cream cheese, ice cream, most cheeses, and whipped toppings. Try to find low-fat versions of these milk products.
  • Avoid high-fat spreads, dips, and salad dressings. There are usually lower fat alternatives you can choose.
  • Avoid baked goods that contain high saturated fats. Try to find low-fat varieties, but still be sure to limit how much you eat.
  • Avoid fast foods like hamburgers, fried chicken, tacos, and French fries. If you go to a fast food restaurant, order broiled meats or salads, and skip the melted cheese and fries.

Are there any foods that help reduce bad cholesterol?

There are some foods that have been shown to help reduce your bad cholesterol. Try to begin integrating them into your regular diet. These foods include:

  • Oats and other whole grains
  • Beans
  • Eggplant and okra
  • Nuts, in moderation (a handful a day)
  • Some vegetable oils, such as canola, sunflower, safflower
  • Apples, grapes, strawberries, and citrus fruits
  • Foods fortified with sterols and stanols: look for it on food labels
  • Fish such as salmon, tuna, sardines, mackerel, and trout
  • Fiber supplements

Where can I learn more?

The following resources were used in preparing this article. They contain a wealth of information on cholesterol and healthy living suggestions.

Center for Disease Control: Cholesterol Awareness

American Heart Association: Heart 360

Mayo Clinic: Diseases and Conditions Section

WebMD: Cholesterol and Triglycerides Health Center

We hope this article has helped you consider a heart-healthy approach to life. The Harris School of Business encourages its students and staff to adopt healthy lifestyles. Many of our career-focused programs are in the field of health care and allied health, so it makes sense to begin by looking at our own lifestyle choices as we talk about careers in these important fields.

*Most of the information about cholesterol in this article comes from the Center for Disease Control’s Cholesterol Awareness page: http://www.cdc.gov/features/cholesterolawareness/