Every day, we are flooded with the information about cholesterol being the prime accused on the incidence of heart attack. But, why too much of it is a cause for concern and how one should keep it in check, are questions that constantly bother us.
Get to know your cholesterol
We all know that there are 2 types of cholesterol – good and bad. LDL is bad, while HDL is considered to be the good cholesterol. Certain factors like sedentary lifestyle, being overweight, smoking, alcohol, diabetes, high blood pressure, under-active thyroid gland, wrong genetics, age, early menopause and over consumption of foods like red meat, sausages, cheese, pastry, cakes, most biscuits and cream cause rise in cholesterol levels. When a person follows a healthy lifestyle and dietary habits, his body is capable of handling excess cholesterol.
The liver compensates for the excess cholesterol by reducing its own production and thus keeps blood levels in check. But when a person leads an unhealthy lifestyle and has no control over his diet, his body fails to handle dietary cholesterol with expertise and allows excess cholesterol to travel into the bloodstream. High cholesterol in the blood along with other factors initiates the process of plaque formation called cholesterol plaques which narrow the arteries and lead to heart diseases. Basically reducing bad – LDL and increasing the good – HDL cholesterol significantly lowers the risk of heart attack.
Is it important to increase HDL & reduce LDL?
Low HDL levels cause the build up of LDL in the blood and some of it gets deposited along the inner lining of the arteries. High levels of HDL protect the heart and blood vessels by reducing LDL cholesterol in blood. High levels of HDL also produce other protective effects like antioxidant, anti-inflammatory and anti-clot effects on heart and blood vessels.
Many people look for a rise in good cholesterol. However, it is important to regulate both the good cholesterol and bad cholesterol. It is healthy to maintain the good cholesterol (HDL) at 40mg/dl & above and the bad cholesterol (LDL) should be below 130 mg/dl.
Before we learn the ways to raise good (HDL) cholesterol, it is important to know what causes it to be low in the first place. The most obvious reason is genetics. Family history of heart problems or cardiovascular problems, can make liver unable to produce sufficient HDL. Also, drugs like steroids, smoking, excessive alcohol, little or no exercise, excessive intake of PUFA oils from corn, sunflower, safflower and wrong food habits also have the ability to lower HDL levels.
How to Increase HDL (Good) Cholesterol
Following simple lifestyle and dietary changes can greatly improve HDL levels in most people, but for some individuals, medication may be necessary. Here are some of the ways to raise HDL levels:
Add soluble fiber to your diet
Soluble fibers present in oats, fruits, vegetables and legumes reduce LDL cholesterol and increase HDL cholesterol. Minimum two servings a day is recommended.
Choose better fats
Minimize usage of foods containing saturated fat and trans fat like cakes, pies, crackers and cookies and biscuits which increase LDL and decrease HDL cholesterol. Also, do not opt for foods containing partially hydrogenated oils. Instead, choose monounsaturated fats (over saturated fat and trans fats) as they lower the risk of heart diseases. Foods containing monounsaturated fats include: Olive oil, Canola oil, Nuts like almonds, walnuts, peanuts and seeds like til seeds, flax seeds etc. Omega -3 fatty acids found in flaxseed, walnuts, soy foods, fatty fish like salmon and sardines and are the best options for the healthy heart.
Eat foods rich in phytosterols
Phytosterols are plant cholesterols. Soy is one of the phytosterol-rich foods that have a significant impact on cholesterol levels due to the presence of chemical compounds called isoflavones. Soy products include Soy milk, Tofu, Soy flour etc. Other foods containing phytosterols include: Canola oil, Sesame seeds, Sunflower seeds and oil, Peanuts, Rice bran, Green peas etc
Curtail simple carbohydrates
Cakes, cookies, processed cereal, bread, rice, sugar and maida cause spikes in blood sugar levels. Foods that raise blood sugar cause a fall in the HDL levels and it is best to avoid such foods.
Natural supplements have proven to reduce LDL cholesterol and increase HDL. Food supplements like soya Lecithin granules, Rice Bran and Pumpkin Seed oil are among the best and are as effective as prescription stating drugs, with no harmful side effects.
One of the best ways to boost good cholesterol is by regular exercise and weight training. If you do not have time to join a gym you may choose to walk anytime of the day to improve HDL level. Studies suggest that it is the duration and regularity of exercise rather than the intensity that influences the raise in good cholesterol.
Manage your weight
Obesity lowers the good cholesterol levels. If you are overweight, losing weight helps to increase HDL, lower LDL, total cholesterol and triglyceride levels.
Quit smoking & cut down on alcohol
Giving up tobacco causes increase in HDL levels and overall general health. Red wine in moderation increases HDL level. However, if you are diabetic or insulin resistant it may not be a good suggestion for you.
Health Totals’ cholesterol management plans help you to effectively get your cholesterol levels back on track, with a few simple lifestyle and diet changes, suggested by our expert doctors and nutritionists. So get in touch with us on our toll-free number 1800 266 0607 and book your free appointment right away.