September is cholesterol awareness month. Do you know what your cholesterol level is?
What is cholesterol?
Cholesterol is a waxy fat-like substance found in all cells of the human body. Cholesterol is made by the liver and is important in making hormones and vitamin D. It also aids in digestion, and protects the nerves and performs many other important functions in our body.
We all need cholesterol, but did you know the liver makes all the cholesterol the body needs? That’s right! WE do not need to eat cholesterol because we already have all the cholesterol we need. So what’s the big deal about cholesterol? First need to understand there are different kinds of cholesterol. We will discuss two kinds.
We will call High-Density Lipoproteins (HDL), “Happy” cholesterol. This kind of cholesterol keeps our organs and body happy by carrying the cholesterol from various parts of the body to the liver. The liver regulates what happens to cholesterol; It can be stored it for later use, remove or eliminate it from the body or it can be recycled and sent to areas in the body where it is needed. “Happy” cholesterol circulates in the blood and acts like a garbage truck would in a city. It goes around picking up all the trash and disposing of it in the proper place (in this case, the liver).
What should my lab value be for “Happy” cholesterol (HDL)?
We want lots of “Happy” cholesterol! Research is showing that the best levels of HDL, is greater than 50 mg/dl for women and greater than 40 mg/dl for men.
How can I raise my “Happy” cholesterol?
Increasing your activity levels and eating high fiber, whole foods such as Legumes (beans, peas, and lentils), fruits, vegetables, freshly ground flaxseeds, chia seeds, nuts (especially walnuts and almonds) will help improve your “Happy” cholesterol levels. Also staying hydrated, getting direct sunlight every day, and sleeping well, having pleasant thoughts and healthy relationships, all impact our cholesterol levels as well as our total wellbeing.
We will call Low-Density Lipoproteins, “Lousy Cholesterol”. This type is lousy because it hangs around like bad company. When we eat cholesterol-rich foods, the excess cholesterol (in the form of plaque) builds up on the walls of our blood vessels (called atherosclerosis) and causes damage and possible blockage of blood flow, which can lead to a stroke or a heart attack, some pretty lousy stuff, wouldn’t you agree?
What should my lab value be for “Lousy” Cholesterol (LDL)?
Your LDL level should be less than 100 mg/dl.
Research from the Framingham Heart Study has shown that cardiac events (heart attack, atherosclerosis, etc,) have dropped to nearly zero when the total cholesterol level (combination of all types of cholesterol) is less than 150 mg/dl. But in order to get our cholesterol within that range, we must first understand what foods contain cholesterol.
Where is cholesterol found?
Cholesterol is found in anything that has a liver or comes from something that had a liver. Therefore all animal products contain cholesterol, including all meat, fish, poultry, eggs, milk and cheese products. Cholesterol is not found in any plant foods.
How can I reduce my “Lousy” cholesterol and increase my “Happy” cholesterol?
If our bodies make all the cholesterol we need and if cholesterol is found only in animal products, and if we want to lower your cholesterol, then it would be logical we would need to stop eating cholesterol, i.e. animal products and start eating more whole plant foods.
If we continue to eat the very thing that is causing the problem, how can the body heal? How can we expect to get better? But if we eliminate the cause, in this case, dietary cholesterol, we can reduce the cholesterol level naturally.
What would a meal of whole plants foods look like?
Here is a Southern Meal Favorite:
- Vegetable Salad
- Whole Grain Cornbread (made with oil instead of lard)
- Beans (made without the ham hock)
- Greens (made without the bacon)
Here’s a nice plant-based breakfast:
- Oatmeal with raisins, cinnamon, and vanilla almond milk
- Walnuts and freshly ground flaxseed
It may take some adjustment, but many have gone before you and have had great success at changing their eating habits and lowering their cholesterol and you can be too!