Combatting Heart Disease with Cholesterol Control
Cholesterol is a natural, fat-like substance found in the body and many foods. Since the body makes all the cholesterol it needs to function properly, additional cholesterol from food could potentially be harmful, especially to the heart.
Foods high in saturated fats, trans fats and cholesterol may raise the body’s blood cholesterol to dangerous levels. Overtime, this type of “bad” cholesterol, or low-density lipoprotein (LDL), can accumulate in the arteries, leading to an increased risk of heart disease and stroke.
Additionally, high-density lipoproteins (HDL) cholesterol is responsible for absorbing cholesterol, bringing it back to the liver, where it is flushed from the body. This “good” cholesterol may reduce the risk of heart disease and stroke.
“There are several factors including age, heredity and diabetes, that may contribute to a high cholesterol number,” said Sina Nafisi, M.D., FACC, a board certified, fellowship-trained interventional cardiologist on the medical staff at St. Luke’s Medical Center. “However, many people can lower their cholesterol with simple dietary and exercise changes.”
Dr. Nafisi recommends following a Mediterranean diet, one that is rich in fruits, vegetables, nuts and grains, to lower cholesterol levels and increase one’s overall heart-health:
- Oatmeal, bran, beans, peas, and lentils. These foods are rich in soluble fiber and can help lower cholesterol. Try having a bowl of oatmeal for breakfast and adding peas or lentils to hearty soups.
- Foods fortified with sterols. Sterols, which are plant-based substances, can block the absorption of cholesterol.
- Nuts and fish, particularly salmon, tuna, herring, flax seeds and walnuts. These foods are rich in omega-3 fatty acids, which have been shown to help improve cholesterol levels when they replace foods high in saturated fat or trans fat.
Conversely, foods to avoid when trying to decrease your cholesterol include:
- Eggs. Eggs are extremely high in cholesterol. If you have eggs every morning you may want consider swapping for whole grain cereal with fruit a few days a week.
- Red meat. Red meat is often a significant source of dietary cholesterol and the first thing your physician may recommend you cut. If you can’t let go completely opt for leaner cuts of meat.
- Whole milk dairy products. Cholesterol comes from an animal, that’s why fruits and vegetables are so good for you — they contain no cholesterol. Watch out for ice cream, butter, cream cheese and other dairy products high in cholesterol.
“Other lifestyle changes including weight loss, smoking cessation and regular exercise can decrease your cholesterol levels as well,” said Dr. Nafisi.
Dr. Nafisi will present, “Knowing Your Cholesterol” from noon to 1 p.m. on Friday, Sept. 20 in the Tempe Connections Program Room at Tempe Public Library, 3500 S. Rural Road in Tempe. The presentation will be followed by free cholesterol screenings. To RSVP, call 1-877-351-WELL (9355).
Dr. Nafisi is a board certified, fellowship-trained interventional cardiologist on the medical staff at St. Luke’s Medical Center. For more information or to schedule an appointment, call 1-877-351-WELL.
This information is provided by St. Luke’s Medical Center as general information only and is not intended to replace the advice of a physician.