Wednesday, June 29th, 2011

Cut Your Cholesterol Intake

cholesterolWhat images do the word cholesterol evoke? Essentially it has a bad rep and is viewed as a devil that clogs your arteries thereby shortening your lifeline. Facts sometimes are stranger than what we believe and this is essentially the case with cholesterol. Cholesterol is required for many bodily functions. Without cholesterol men can’t produce testosterone and women can not produce estrogen. Our intestines can’t digest food without it and cells can’ t create their outer coating or membrane. So cholesterol is not that bad. When doctors ask you to lower cholesterol by that they mean bad cholesterol LDL and total cholesterol. Since the National Cholesterol Education Program (NCEP) issued its cholesterol guidelines in 2004, a number of studies have provided evidence that when it comes to LDL (“bad”) cholesterol and overall cholesterol levels, the lower the better if you want to live longer!

Ten step guide to lower cholesterol

In addition to exercise, which is imperative to boost HDL—the good cholesterol, the following dietary techniques have been shown to help lower LDL cholesterol levels, advises Dr. Pramod Kumar, senior consultant interventional cardiology and in-charge heart failure programme, Max Healthcare

1. Learn new cooking techniques. Cut down on saturated fat in cooking. Use liquid cooking oils rather than butter ghee or margarine. Use nonstick pans. Instead of frying, bake, broil, roast, steam, or stew. Discard drippings.

2. Avoid trans fats. Because trans fats increase your LDL and decrease your HDL, the Institute of Medicine’s Food and Nutrition Board says there’s no safe level of trans fat intake, and the National Cholesterol Education Program urges people to eat as little as possible. Avoid or eat only very small quantities of foods that list shortening, partially hydrogenated oil, or hydrogenated oil among their first ingredients

3. Reduce dietary cholesterol. Strive to eat less than 200 mg of dietary cholesterol a day. Limit eggs to no more than four egg yolks per week; two egg whites can replace a whole egg in most recipes. Limit lean meat, fish, and poultry to no more than 6 ounces per day (a 3-ounce portion is about the size of a deck of playing cards).

4. Increase complex carbohydrates and fiber. Emphasize foods with complex carbohydrates, such as fruits and vegetables, whole-grain products, and legumes (dried beans and peas) that are low in calories and high in fiber. Eat more water-soluble fiber, such as that found in oat bran and fruits. This type of fiber can significantly lower your blood cholesterol level when eaten in conjunction with a low-fat diet.

5. Up your antioxidant intake, in a 1989 issue of the New England Journal of Medicine Dr. Daniel Steinberg postulated that if patients had adequate antioxidants on board to quell oxidation of LDL cholesterol, LDL cholesterol would not become bad after all. This implies you should eat plenty of garlic, onion and chilly as they are imbued with free radical fighter—flavonoids. Studies say that garlic will help you lower cholesterol. An occasional glass of flavonoid-rich, red wine to unwind in evening is also good for managing cholesterol. Crunch on nuts like cashew, almonds, walnuts and pumpkin seeds for snacks. They have the power of vitamin E—the most important antioxidant when it comes to hindering the process of hardening of the arteries.

6. Studies are concluding that elevated homocysteine level may also be a significant risk factor for developing heart diseases but drug treatment is not known at present. Homocysteine is an immediate byproduct that we produce when our bodies metabolise an essential amino acid called methionine. Methionine is found in large quantities in meats, eggs, milk, cheese, white flour, canned foods and highly processed foods. Just the kind of food that we eat a lot these days! Our bodies normally recycle homocysteine into methionine and cysteine if it has the enzyme. And to make those enzymes, the body needs—folic acid, vitamin B12 and B6. Hence, nosh on leafy greens, sprouts, whole wheat, banana, mangoes, beans, broccoli and cabbage. It is difficult to source B12 if you are trying to lower your LDL and raise your HDL. Except low fat yoghurt all foods containing B12 have saturated animal fats—meat, eggs and cod, exactly the sort of fat that people with cholesterol problems should avoid.

7. Eat frequent smaller meals. Smaller meals stave of feelings of starvation, which prevent binge eating. Eating large meals tend to cause fat to deposit.

8. Avoid extra salt in your diet. This means saying no to papads, pickles, baked beans, canned soups, processed foods—like meat and fast foods.

9. Regular exercise. Weight lifting for muscle building is also good for your heart. Exercise not only increases good cholesterol (HDL) but also lowers LDL. It also helps in controlling diabetes and hypertension two major risk factors for heart disease. Check with your cardiologist before you start an exercise program.

10. Quit smoking and tobacco in any form. Smoking lowers HDL cholesterol and increases your blood’s tendency to clot. Dr. Samir Parikh, HOD mental health at Max Healthcare, New Delhi says, “Quitting does not happen in one shot. People have tried and failed but persistence is the key to quit.” To increase your odds of success, you might want to try more than one strategy at a time. For example, combine medication to reduce nicotine cravings with a support group or individual counselling. Talk with your doctor about your options for quitting.

Doc speaks

Dr. Pramod Kumar, senior consultant interventional cardiology, Max Healthcare summarises necessary mantras to lower cholesterol levels—

1. Exercise raises good cholesterol. Brisk walk for 30 minutes at least five days a week.
2. Quit smoking and tobacco in any form, as they are counter productive to the strategy.
3. Transfats are harmful and almost everything that your local baker dishes out has whopping levels of the same.
4. Include more of leafy greens, garlic, low fat yoghurt and nuts in your diet.
5. Statins—medicines that have revolutionized heart disease management. Stick to them if prescribed.

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