So, I had a doctor's appointment last week, and I was shocked to learn that my once "perfect" (in the words of a North Bay clinic doc) cholesterol is now too high. Now, I'm not saying I'm not to blame for this, I know that dispite some significant changes I've made, I'm not living at my healthiest. However, it seems that my cholesterol actually was very good last time I got it checked, and would still be ok, except very recently there was a change made to the standard of what is considered "ok" in terms of levels. Um... so, what you're saying is that 6 weeks ago, my cholesterol was ok, but now it's bad because someone decided to change the numbers on paper? Whatever.Anyways, so I've been looking into ways not only to lower my C (which is a lot easier to type than Cholesterol, so that's how I'm going to refer to it from here in), but also to decrease my middle. And, funny story, this time it's not out of vanity (HAH!), but out of risk. A tummy more than 10 inches around is a big risk for cardiac problems.
Some of you may be wondering why I'm worried about cardiac health, since I never really was before. There's really one reason... I quit smoking*. I actually quit about 3 months ago, and to be honest, I haven't seen ANY benifits of doing so. I don't feel more active, I don't taste things more, I don't notice that my breathing is getting better... What does this have to do with the above? The only logical explanation I can see is that the reasons I'm not seeing anything good out of quitting is because all the bad stuff I'm doing is canceling it out.
The doc's advice was to eat more berries, nuts, seeds and greens, which, as an old friend put it, means "become a squirrel". I could be ok with this! ;) Strange thing was, the doc also said to stop eating red meat, eggs, cheese... things I already don't eat a lot of. I mean, I LOVE cheese. I love everything about cheese. If I could live on a diet of white bread and cheese, I would. But the good stuff is EXPENSIVE!! Like, so expensive that it's not really worth it. Then she said that it's probably 2 things, if I'm not eating a lot of bad stuff... too much processed food (ok, fair enough...) and not enough exercise.
DEAR GOD, I HATE EXERCISE SO MUCH IT MAKES ME WANT TO PUNCH THINGS. But, some things you just have to do, no matter how much you hate it, like doing the dishes or changing the litter box. Anyways, Adam and I are going out tonight to buy baseball gloves, because he wants to go to the park and throw a ball around, and I'm going to look for an aerobic step, because I did that when I was a kid, and I liked it! I checked, and the library has a step DVD in stock, so I don't have to buy that, just the equipment.
And, here are some of the suggestions I've come across that I should be doing:
Eat more of these foods:
Omega-3 fatty acids from fish and plant source
- Fish, poultry without the skin, lean beef
- Skim or low-fat milk
- Sherbet, sorbet, ice milk
- Egg whites
- Steamed vegetables
- Baked potatoes
- Clear soups
- Unsaturated vegetable oils: corn, canola, safflower, sesame, sunflower, olive, soybean
- Angel food cake
- Graham crackers, animal crackers, fig bars, vanilla wafers, lady fingers
- Pretzels, air-popped popcorn, bagels, English muffins
- Pancakes or cereal with low-fat milk
Eat less of these foods
- Sausage, organ meats (like liver)
- Whole milk
- Ice cream
- Egg yolks
- Buttered or fried vegetables
- French fries
- Creamed soups
- Saturated fats: butter, coconut oil, palm oil, lard, bacon fat
- Cheesecake (really? This needs it's own bullet point?)
- Pastries, doughnuts
- Potato chips
- Refined carbohydrates and sugar
- Eggs and bacon
1. Oatmeal, oat bran and high-fiber foods
Oatmeal contains soluble fiber, which reduces your low-density lipoprotein (LDL), the "bad" cholesterol. Soluble fiber is also found in such foods as kidney beans, apples, pears, barley and prunes.
Soluble fiber can reduce the absorption of cholesterol into your bloodstream. Five to 10 grams or more of soluble fiber a day decreases your total and LDL cholesterol. Eating 1 1/2 cups of cooked oatmeal provides 6 grams of fiber. If you add fruit, such as bananas, you'll add about 4 more grams of fiber. To mix it up a little, try steel-cut oatmeal or cold cereal made with oatmeal or oat bran.
2. Fish and omega-3 fatty acids
Eating fatty fish can be heart-healthy because of its high levels of omega-3 fatty acids, which can reduce your blood pressure and risk of developing blood clots. In people who have already had heart attacks, fish oil — or omega-3 fatty acids — reduces the risk of sudden death.
Doctors recommend eating at least two servings of fish a week. The highest levels of omega-3 fatty acids are in:
- Lake trout
- Albacore tuna
- Halibut (YUM!!)
You should bake or grill the fish to avoid adding unhealthy fats. If you don't like fish, you can also get small amounts of omega-3 fatty acids from foods like ground flaxseed or canola oil.
You can take an omega-3 or fish oil supplement to get some of the benefits, but you won't get other nutrients in fish, like selenium. If you decide to take a supplement, just remember to watch your diet and eat lean meat or vegetables in place of fish.
3. Walnuts, almonds and other nuts
Walnuts, almonds and other nuts can reduce blood cholesterol. Rich in polyunsaturated fatty acids, walnuts also help keep blood vessels healthy.
According to the Food and Drug Administration, eating about a handful (1.5 ounces, or 42.5 grams) a day of most nuts, such as almonds, hazelnuts, peanuts, pecans, some pine nuts, pistachio nuts and walnuts, may reduce your risk of heart disease. Just make sure the nuts you eat aren't salted or coated with sugar.
All nuts are high in calories, so a handful will do. To avoid eating too many nuts and gaining weight, replace foods high in saturated fat with nuts. For example, instead of using cheese, meat or croutons in your salad, add a handful of walnuts or almonds.
4. Olive oil
Olive oil contains a potent mix of antioxidants that can lower your "bad" (LDL) cholesterol but leave your "good" (HDL) cholesterol untouched.
The Food and Drug Administration recommends using about 2 tablespoons (23 grams) of olive oil a day in place of other fats in your diet to get its heart-healthy benefits. To add olive oil to your diet, you can saute vegetables in it, add it to a marinade, or mix it with vinegar as a salad dressing. You can also use olive oil as a substitute for butter when basting meat or as a dip for bread. Olive oil is high in calories, so don't eat more than the recommended amount.
The cholesterol-lowering effects of olive oil are even greater if you choose extra-virgin olive oil, meaning the oil is less processed and contains more heart-healthy antioxidants. But keep in mind that "light" olive oils are usually more processed than extra-virgin or virgin olive oils and are lighter in color, not fat or calories.
5. Foods with added plant sterols or stanols (huh?)
Foods are now available that have been fortified with sterols or stanols — substances found in plants that help block the absorption of cholesterol.
Margarines, orange juice and yogurt drinks with added plant sterols can help reduce LDL cholesterol by more than 10 percent. The amount of daily plant sterols needed for results is at least 2 grams — which equals about two 8-ounce (237-milliliter) servings of plant sterol-fortified orange juice a day.
Plant sterols or stanols in fortified foods don't appear to affect levels of triglycerides or of high-density lipoprotein (HDL), the "good" cholesterol.
Other changes to your diet
For any of these foods to provide their benefit, you need to make other changes to your diet and lifestyle.
Cut back on the cholesterol and total fat — especially saturated and trans fats — that you eat. Saturated fats, like those in meat, full-fat dairy products and some oils, raise your total cholesterol. Trans fats, which are sometimes found in margarines and store-bought cookies, crackers and cakes, are particularly bad for your cholesterol levels. Trans fats raise low-density lipoprotein (LDL), the "bad" cholesterol, and lower high-density lipoprotein (HDL), the "good" cholesterol.
The overarching theme here seems to be simple: Stop eating dumb things, and start eating real things. Portion control is also going to be an issue... an hour ago, I had a cup of tea and a piece of toast with peanut butter, and I'm STARVING. But, I guess that's all part of the experiance, right?
I'll let you guys know how it all goes. I'm going back for more blood work on Sept 9.
*Yes, I quit. I never really had the drive to, I didn't wake up one morning and say "Geez, I hate doing this, and I don't want to do it anymore"... I just stopped. I still get cravings. LOTS of them, especially since I'm around smokers a lot (Adam's family, people outside, people at bus stops...). I haven't started again for 2 reasons only: 1) I really can't afford it anymore with the HST, and the rising prices, and 2) Mom would be disappointed. I miss it, actually.