It is important to remember that cholesterol is a normal part of the body. It is made in the liver and used for many important functions; making vitamins, hormones and cells that line nerve tissue. Cholesterol is important! The trouble is when levels are too high in the bloodstream – particularly LDL particles.
LDL-Cholesterol, or LDL, is known as “bad” cholesterol and plays a role in heart disease and stroke by contributing to plaque formation in arteries.
In general, a high LDL can come from two places:
Diet. Eating a diet high in saturated fats, trans fats and not enough vegetables, fruit, and whole grains can lead to a high LDL. Many children with a high LDL are eating a lot of cheese (pizza, macaroni and cheese, etc) or red meat (hamburgers and hot dogs). They also may be eating fast food – even once a week can bump LDL levels.
Genetics. A genetic condition called Familial Hypercholesterolemia (FH) can impact the way your body processes cholesterol. The LDL cholesterol doesn’t get recycled properly, which makes it hard to get LDL levels into a healthy range by eating a healthy diet and exercising regularly.
The good news is that most people – even patients with FH – can create a big difference on their LDL level by making healthy changes to their diet.
- Eat more vegetables! More salad, roasted veggies, sliced carrots and cucumbers – whatever works! I have seen patients make phenomenal improvements in labs just by increasing their veggie intake.
- More whole grains. Look for protein and fiber in cereals, specifically the word “whole” in breads. Try steel-cut oats or thick, rolled oats for breakfast.
- Shifting from unhealthy fats to healthy fats. (Read more on Facts About Fats)
- Cook and eat at home! Anything you make at home (ok, with maybe a couple of exceptions) will be healthier – and less expensive – than what you can get in a restaurant.
- Eat treats once or twice a week. Enjoy cookies or ice cream here and there – just not every day.
If you know anyone who has had an angioplasty or a cardiac bypass surgery, this is likely from plaque buildup that has blocked arteries. Once an artery gets blocked, it is very difficult to treat. Preventing plaque buildup is a key strategy to reduce the risk of heart disease. This can be done by eating a healthy diet from a young age.