Tuesday, October 26, 2010

A Few Easy Ways to Make Your Heart Happy

I don't know how you all party, but here in these parts, the party conversations tend to go like this:

  • Personal information (hi, how are you, how old are your kids, where do you live...)
  • Current events/weather (big storm coming, how did you vote on the referendum...)
  • Job sharing (where do you work, oh do you know so-and-so that works there...)
  • Personal health information (This hurts, I have this condition, had this surgery, etc)
For me personally, the last two are sort of a blur since I work in the health care field.  And quite frankly, I am always RELIEVED when we finally get to the health topic because I barely read the newspaper and try to ignore the weather in Chicago for most of the year.  

At a party a few weeks ago, I had a conversation with a HE who told me he was diagnosed with high cholesterol and was recently prescribed a statin drug. I got all bubbly inside and started offering suggestions for other things he can do to help with his cholesterol.  Even when you're taking a drug, there are some other simple things to do that will further lower cholesterol.  Plus, these things may help other members of your family (e.g., your significant other, your kids) prevent high cholesterol. 

Just as a reminder, the concern with having high cholesterol (especially LDL cholesterol, aka, the lousy cholesterol) is that it really increases your risk of having heart disease...which is the #1 cause of death in the US.  Just lowering your cholesterol 10% can reduce your risk of heart disease by almost 30%. Unfortunately, there are a bunch of things that negatively affect cholesterol levels that are uncontrollable.....genetics, getting older, being a male.  On the upside, there are several easy things that can help lower cholesterol and one or more of these may be easy for you to work into your life.  Every little bit helps!

Here goes: 
  1. Substitute some of the foods you currently use with those that have phytosterols.  Phytosterols are naturally-occurring substances found in plants that block the absorption of cholesterol from your belly, resulting in a decrease in cholesterol levels. They are  also available as a food ingredient.  Promise activ is a margarine with phytosterols, Minute Maid has a juice with them, and you can find them in a few other foods branded with the CoroWise logo.  They cost more $$, but I guarantee that in the long run, they will cost you less than a heart attack.  
  2. Eat more protein, and less carbohydrates.  I'm like a broken record with this protein stuff!  Besides having other benefits, a higher protein diet (20-30% of your calories ideally) has been scientifically shown to do good things for cholesterol.  Ideally, choose the leaner or veggie-based varieties of protein and make sure to get a dose of protein at breakfast (where most people choose carbs instead). 
  3. Start eating more like a Mediterranean.  Those Greeks know how to eat! There are so many great Mediterranean Diet cookbooks if you're not familiar with all of the yummy goodness of olive oil, fish, whole grains, and wine.  Did I mention the wine? 
  4. Eat smaller meals more frequently.  This behavior may be more difficult for some versus others depending on your lifestyle (e.g., hard to eat all day if you're a bank teller, personal trainer, teacher, etc.).  When I switched jobs and started working at home, my cholesterol decreased about 20 points in a month...eating smaller meals throughout the day was the only change I made (besides hardly ever showering and wearing pajamas all day, but that is neither here nor there).    
  5. Break a sweat as often as possible.  I know, I know, no one wants to hear how good exercise is for you.  But here's the thing, it's really, really good for you!  If there's one behavior that should always be a part of your life, it's physical activity in some capacity. 
    These are just a few suggestions.  Don't forget that fiber, especially the gooey, really viscous kind, is very effective at lowering cholesterol.  Oatmeal, Metamucil,Cheerios, etc.  In my experience, it's harder to "sell" fiber to someone.  Most people think of all the un-pleasantries of fiber (gas, flatus, sharting), but don't discount it!  Many of the side effects of fiber are temporary until your belly gets used to it.  
    For more information on heart health, check out the American Heart Association website.  For a good book that has lots of yummy recipes and includes most of the list above, check out The South Beach Diet.  It's one of my favorites!   And just a reminder, I am a nutritionist and not a physician.  Always best to confirm with your Dr. before making any major diet or lifestyle changes, especially if you're already on medications for cholesterol or other conditions.  My list above is consistent with major public health recommendations from several organizations, but I just have to say that or else they come and take my PhD away, or worse, they may make me change out of my pajamas.  Either way, heed my caution.  :) 

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