September is Cholesterol Education Month—the perfect time to do what you can
When you think of the word “cholesterol,” you might think about all the foods you should avoid eating. But there’s more to it than that, and a little information—especially during Cholesterol Education Month—can support you in making smart choices that can have a positive impact on your health.
Some basic info
You may know that there is “good” (HDL) cholesterol as well as “bad” (LDL) cholesterol, but did you also know know the “good” kind brings the “bad” kind back to your liver to be eliminated? HDL cholesterol is important to the growth of blood, skin, and organs and helps your body function. However, what we should be wary of is LDL cholesterol building up and creating plaque on the lining of artery walls. Eventually, this buildup can interfere with proper blood flow, which can lead to heart attack and stroke.
While the body naturally produces cholesterol, it is also found in many of the foods we eat. To maintain a healthy level and the right kinds of cholesterol, you need to watch what you eat and exercise regularly. Don’t worry—we’ve got more detailed advice for you.
Here are some tips on how your food choices can help minimize your intake of bad cholesterol:
- Avoid trans fats: Also known as partially hydrogenated oils, these transform oils from liquid to solid, which manufacturers use because they keep products from going bad and change the texture (like making margarine easier to spread). However, the American diet contains too many foods with trans fats, including fried and commercially produced baked goods. Now that medical evidence has proven the negative effects of trans fats—including heart disease and diabetes—much of the food industry is slowly phasing them out. However, you still need to read labels carefully to avoid them. An ingredients label might say “0% trans fats” but still contain “partially hydrogenated” or “hydrogenated oils,” which both increase bad cholesterol.
- Choose unhydrogenated oils: When cooking or baking, choose oils that are naturally unhydrogenated, such as sunflower, safflower, canola, and olive oil. If you’re going to buy a processed food item, look for food products that list one of these ingredients instead of hydrogenated oils/trans fats.
- Limit your intake of saturated fats: If you’re a meat-lover, focus your consumption on lean cuts rather than fatty ones (pork tenderloin is a great example). While saturated fat can be a source of energy for the body and help increase HDL cholesterol, too much of it can be bad for you. Also choose low-fat dairy and avoid tropical oils like palm and coconut.
- Eat more fiber: Soluble fiber is beneficial in several ways: it reduces cholesterol, manages and prevents diabetes, and makes you feel full so that you’ll eat less. Some foods that contain soluble fiber are legumes such as peas and beans, wholegrains like oatmeal and whole wheat, and fruits and vegetables such as apricots and Brussels sprouts.
- Seek out foods that are rich in omega-3 fatty acids: This good kind of fat helps to maintain your metabolism, reduces inflammation, and builds up the good kind of cholesterol. Certain fish are high in omega-3 fatty acids, including salmon, tuna, and bluefish. Nuts like walnuts, peanuts, and almonds are also a source of one kind of omega-3 fatty acid—just be careful of portion control, given their high calorie content.
If you read labels, make a few healthy substitutions, and open yourself up to some new and delicious food choices, you’ll be making a worthy effort in the preventive fight against heart disease and other cholesterol-related illnesses. Here’s to your health, and your heart!
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