It seems like everywhere you go, someone is talking about avoiding fat in their diet, or “watching” their cholesterol, but you may not even understand why. With so much talk in the media about saturated fats and lowering cholesterol, you probably feel like you should know what it all means, but may be embarrassed to tell anyone that you really don’t. That’s okay. Many people still don’t understand the effects of fat and cholesterol. This is, in part, why the American Heart Association proclaims February as American Heart Month, to educate people about risks to your heart.
The easiest way to understand cholesterol is to break it down into two parts, “good” cholesterol and “bad” cholesterol. Like all wars between good and evil, whichever one is greater in strength, will take over. Therefore, if you have more bad, or LDL cholesterol, you are at greater risk for heart attack. If you gather more weapons, in this case “good”, or HDL cholesterol, to fight off the bad, the good will begin to win again.
So, how do you get this good or bad cholesterol to begin with? Seventy-five percent of cholesterol is formed by your liver and cells in your body. The remaining twenty-five percent comes from the food you eat. If you eat foods that are high in cholesterol and saturated fat, you are adding the “bad” cholesterol into your body, thus giving it the upper hand. Therefore, when reading food labels, you want to look for the items that have the lowest amounts of saturated fat. If you can’t remember which fat is the bad fat, try this memory trick: He sat (saturated) and sat, so now he’s fat.
Once that fat turns to “bad” cholesterol in your body, it can cause major stress on your heart. Your heart needs oxygen to live. Arteries and veins work together to pull blood out of your heart, take it to your lungs where it gets oxygen, and then send that oxygen-rich blood back to your heart. If your heart can not get the oxygen it needs, it will begin to die. Oxygen can be cut off to your heart if something is blocking its path. This is where cholesterol comes in. Bad cholesterol causes your arteries to form plaque, so instead of being wide open tunnels for the blood to travel through, they become caked with plaque that turns them into narrow passageways. If part of the plaque breaks off and a blood clot forms, the passageway can be so narrow that the blood clot now blocks the remaining opening. At that time, the blood that should be full of life-giving oxygen, can not get through to your heart.
If you didn’t eat saturated fats and thus didn’t get too much “bad” cholesterol, the tunnels, or arteries, would still be wide enough for blood to travel through and all would work as it should. It’s when the “bad” cholesterol forms plaque that everything starts to get out of sync.
Therefore, it should be easy to understand that you need to fight back with “good” cholesterol or weapons that defeat the bad guys. There are many foods that help to lower “bad” cholesterol, and exercise, too, can cause the “bad” cholesterol to surrender.
Once you review the list of foods that contain ingredients that can act as weapons against the “bad” cholesterol, you can make a heart-healthy grocery list to take with you on your next trip to Shop N Save, Dierbergs or Schnucks. Even small changes are a positive step in the right direction.
If you’re not a fan of exercise in the form of aerobics classes or using exercise machines, you can give your heart what it needs simply by walking. You could join a St. Louis YMCA and walk around their track while listening to your iPod or tweeting from your phone. Or, simply walk briskly through one of the local malls, such as St. Louis Mills or Chesterfield Mall. Once all the snow and ice finally melts and St. Louis starts to see warmer temperatures again, a five to ten minute walk around your neighborhood is all it will take to get you in the habit of moving, and keep your heart healthy.
The American Heart Association has many wonderful resources to help you manage your cholesterol online.
To learn more about keeping your heart healthy here in St. Louis, you might consider getting further information about these screenings and classes:
Heart Health Screenings at DePaul Hospital
Women’s Heart Health Assessment and Screening through St. John’s Hospital
Cholesterol and the Heart-Healthy Diet at Christian Northeast Hospital
Dance Dance Dance at St. Lukes Hospital
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