Keep Tabs on Your Cholesterol

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A careful diet, physical exercise, and upbeat mind may just help to rein in your cholesterol levels and keep you healthy.

Cholesterol is found in all animals and animal-based foods; it is also a fat or lipid that is produced by our liver that is essential for a lot of our body functions. For example, it helps our body to produce bile (which breaks down fats into fatty acids for digestion), and aids in the metabolism of some critical vitamins such as vitamins A, D, and E. Although our body produces most of the cholesterol, the rest of the cholesterol comes from our diets.

There’re two types of cholesterol. One is known as the low-density lipoprotein (LDL) or the bad type of cholesterol. LDL basically carries cholesterol from the liver to the cells. Excess build up of LDL occurs when too much cholesterol is carried from the liver to the cells for use. This can result in arteries being blocked and health problems such as heart attacks and strokes to occur.

The other cholesterol is high-density lipoprotein (HDL), which is the good cholesterol. HDL carries the cholesterol away from the cells to the liver where it is broken down or removed from the body as waste. The ideal situation is to balance the cholesterol in our bodies – ensuring high HDL and low LDL levels.

While medications can help to control your high cholesterol, the consumption of certain foods and the right lifestyle habits may also curb your high cholesterol count. For those who have been diagnosed with heart disease or have had a heart attack or stroke, medications and surgery are crucial. For those with mild levels of cholesterol however, a change in dietary habits and an extra dose of physical activities may be the answer to keeping the cholesterol levels in check.

After all, high cholesterol has been linked to cardiovascular disease – the diseases involving the heart or blood vessels like arteries and vessels; getting yourself checked regularly at the doctor’s is one of the essential steps to ensuring your health for the long term. Now, let us take a look at how we can manage our cholesterol levels through diet, exercise, and a healthy mind:

Omega-3 fatty acids
Research has shown a link between high consumptions of fish and low incidence of high blood pressure and heart disease. Essentially the omega-3 fatty acid content in the fish has been shown to lower bad cholesterol (LDL) and blood pressure. The best sources of omega-3 fatty acids are found in fish like salmon, tuna, mackerel, and sardines although any type of fish is beneficial too. Fish is ideally boiled, baked, or grilled rather than fried. Try to consume a few servings a week otherwise you may like to consider taking fish oil supplements for a balanced diet.

Other than fish, omega-3 fatty acids are also found in soy products, flax seeds and walnuts. Although omega-3 fatty acids are shown to have a positive effect on cholesterol levels, they should be taken in conjunction with other diet habits such as reducing saturated fat (derived from animal products such as meat, dairy, and eggs, and some plant-based sources like coconut, which are known to raise LDL) consumption for maximum results.

Unsaturated fats
Known to reduce bad cholesterol (LDL), unsaturated fats fall into two categories: monounsaturated fats and polyunsaturated fats – both unsaturated fatty acids are derived from vegetables and plants. Monounsaturated fats are found in olive oil, peanut butter, nuts, and avocados while polyunsaturated fats are essentially omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids; foods rich in polyunsaturated fats are liquid in room temperature and include corn oil, soy oil, regular safflower and sunflower oils.

Fruits and vegetables
Have multiple servings of fruits and vegetables especially those that are rich in vitamin C and beta-carotene for they help to reduce cholesterol in your body. The powerful antioxidant vitamin C is rich in citrus fruits such as oranges, lemons, strawberry, cranberry, guava, mango, and vegetables such as cabbage and broccoli while beta-carotene is found in fruits like apricots, grapefruits, cherries, plums and dark green vegetables like spinach and broccoli.

A class of vegetables comprising beans, peas, lentils, and soya products, legumes are naturally low in fat, have high fibre and are rich in potassium, iron and magnesium. They’re a good source of protein – great substitutes for meat that are high in fat and cholesterol. They also contain soluble and insoluble fibre – insoluble fibre have been shown to work by attaching onto the cholesterol in your body and removing it from your body; thereby lowering your LDL.

Drink moderately
Although it has been shown that moderate drinking can help to raise the good cholesterol level or HDL but more than the stipulated amounts – one glass a day for women and two for men – can reverse things, increasing your LDL instead. Alcohol can also be addictive. Thus practise drinking in moderation.

A variety of exercises has also been shown to raise good cholesterol, boosting your health and well-being tremendously. And for those who are on the heavy side, they can leverage on exercise to lose weight and hence lose the cholesterol as well. The variety of exercise, the frequency – the more times you work out a week, and the duration matter more than intensity. Thus, rather than just concentrating on one form of exercise like running, go for a mix of cardiovascular and strength training to ensure best results for your health.

Mind your mind
We all know what stress can do to our bodies. When we worry or are stressed out, this would trigger chemicals into our body (similarly to what endorphins do) causing our arteries to contract, blood pressure to rise, and heart rates to go up. Coupled with high cholesterol, you may be on the way to a heart attack or stroke. Therefore keeping our minds healthy by refocusing on priorities and spending time with friends and families can all help to balance our emotions, and together with a healthy diet and lifestyle, keep the bad cholesterol at bay.

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