Replacing saturated and trans fats with healthy unsaturated fats is among lifestyle choices that can help improve a person’s cholesterol levels and risk of heart disease.

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Replacing saturated and trans fats with healthy unsaturated fats is among lifestyle choices that can help improve a person’s cholesterol levels and risk of heart disease.

Aging Well: Taking control of cholesterol

Cholesterol screenings

The Northwest Colorado Visiting Nurse Association is offering free cholesterol screenings Tuesdays at 940 Central Park Drive, Suite 101 in Steamboat Springs; and Fridays at 745 Russell St. in Craig, through September. An appointment is required. Call Karla Larsen at 875-1880.

Lowering cholesterol

A helpful guide to lowering LDL levels is “Lowering Cholesterol with Therapeutic Lifestyle Changes,” developed by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

To download or print the guide, visit www.nhlbi.nih.gov and type “TLC” in the search box.

Correction

The correct website for information about disability-related programs, services, laws and benefits is www.disability.gov. The site listed in the Aug. 30 article, “New strategies, support compensate for low vision,” was outdated.

It’s difficult to talk about cardiovascular disease without talking about cholesterol.

Cholesterol is a major controllable risk factor of heart disease, the No. 1 cause of death in the U.S.

That’s why everyone should have a general understanding of the complex world of cholesterol — good and bad types and foods and lifestyle decisions that affect cholesterol — and receive regular screenings to keep their levels in check.

In recognition of National Cholesterol Education month, the Northwest Colorado Visiting Nurse Association is offering free cholesterol screenings, by appointment, on Tuesdays in Steamboat Springs and Fridays in Craig, through September.

The screenings are a regular VNA service, usually offered one day per month in Steamboat and Craig.

Cholesterol and screenings

Cholesterol is a fatlike substance mostly made by our bodies (some is found in food from animals) to keep us healthy.

Insoluble in the blood, cholesterol is carried to and from cells by lipoproteins. Low-density lipoprotein has little protein in relation to fat and is considered bad cholesterol.

Too much LDL in the blood can build up slowly in the arteries, forming a hard plaque that inhibits blood flow to the heart and brain. This condition, atherosclerosis, can lead to heart attack or stroke.

High-density lipoprotein, on the other hand, is good because it helps carry excess cholesterol back to the liver, where it can pass from the body.

A cholesterol test, accomplished through a blood test, measures LDL and HDL levels and triglycerides, a fat made by the body from excess calories.

High levels of triglycerides can result from excess weight, lack of exercise, cigarette smoking, excess alcohol or too many carbohydrates (60 percent or more of diet). People with elevated triglycerides tend to have high LDL and total cholesterol levels.

The cholesterol screening process also involves measuring a person’s body mass index (calculated from height and weight), blood pressure and glucose (high blood glucose can signal diabetes).

High blood pressure or diabetes, in addition to high cholesterol, can further increase a person’s risk of heart disease.

Based on cholesterol levels and other measurements, and information about a person’s age, diet, exercise and family medical history, a VNA community health educator can estimate a person’s risk of developing a cardiovascular disease in the next 10 years.

If there are concerns or signs of possible health problems, the person will be referred to a health care provider for further evaluation.

Prevention and treatment

Some risk factors associated with high cholesterol cannot be controlled. These include age — cholesterol levels increase as we get older — and sex. Before menopause, women tend to have lower cholesterol than men of the same age. After menopause, women’s LDL levels tend to rise.

Heredity also can affect LDL cholesterol if people inherit genes that cause their bodies to make too much. In these cases, a treatment plan may involve cholesterol medications.

It’s important that people work with their doctors to determine the best approach for their situation.

Medication or not, a plan to lower cholesterol and heart disease risk almost always includes lifestyle improvements such as losing weight, exercising more, quitting smoking, limiting alcohol and eating a heart-healthy diet.

Nutrition labels on food packages can be a person’s best friend. Dietary cholesterol, fats and the ingredients list are particularly important sections for people aiming to lower their heart disease risk.

Saturated fats, found in high amounts in fatty meats, whole-milk dairy products, lard and coconut or palm oils have been linked to higher LDL levels.

“Lowering Your Cholesterol with TLC,” a guide from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, recommends limiting saturated fat to 7 percent or less of total daily calories.

It’s also important to avoid trans fats found mostly in foods containing hydrogenated oils. The hydrogenation process adds hydrogen to unsaturated fat to make it more stable at room temperatures. Common sources are stick margarines or shortenings, fried foods and processed foods such as crackers, cookies and other baked goods.

Trans fats tend to raise LDL levels while lowering HDL levels.

A healthy diet will include foods containing polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fats such as fish, avocados, nuts, seeds, and healthy oils including olive, canola, sesame and sunflower oils.

All fats should be eaten in moderation, however, because they are calorie-dense and can affect a person’s ability to lose or maintain a healthy weight.

A person aiming for a heart-healthy diet also should limit simple sugars and refined grains, opting instead for more fruits, vegetables and whole grains.

For tips on healthy eating and cooking, visit the American Heart Association at www.heart.org. Type “Nutrition Center” in the search box.

This article includes information from the American Heart Association and WebMD, www.webmd.com.

— Tamera Manzanares writes for the Aging Well program and can be reached at tmanzanares@nwcovna.org or 871-7676. Aging Well, a division of Northwest Colorado Visiting Nurse Association, is a community-based program of healthy aging for adults 50 and older. For more information, visit www.agingwelltoday.com or call 970-871-7676.

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