TMH Living Well: Power in numbers — keeping cholesterol at optimum levels |

TMH Living Well: Power in numbers — keeping cholesterol at optimum levels

Myndi Christopher

Do you know your number? Your number holds power: it's a key player in determining whether or not you are at risk for heart disease and stroke. Your "number" is your total cholesterol. Is it less than 200? If yes, then great! Most likely you are not building plaque in your arteries. If it's over, it's time to make some lifestyle changes to bring it down in order to keep your arteries clear and your heart happy.

What the numbers mean

Your total cholesterol is made up of three numbers, your LDL (low-density lipoprotein), HDL (high-density lipoprotein) and triglycerides (a type of fat increased by sweets and alcohol). You've probably heard that there's bad cholesterol and good cholesterol, and the bad guy here is LDL.

LDL cholesterol can build up as plaque on the inside of artery walls. Narrowed arteries can become blocked and may lead to heart attacks or strokes," said Cinde Porter, PA-C with TMH Medical Clinic. One hundred (100) or below is an ideal number for LDL cholesterol.

If LDL is your enemy, HDL is your friend. HDL cholesterol helps prevent arteries from becoming clogged, so the higher the number, the better. Above 40 for men and above 50 for women is best. As for triglycerides, you want them below 150 for good health.

Lowering your cholesterol

If your total cholesterol number is high, you have the power to change it. That's what's great about knowing your number and having it checked regularly — annually if you are older than 45 and once for kids between the ages of 10 and 20.

"By tweaking just a few things in your diet or exercise habits you can reduce your cholesterol by 10 or 20 percent," Porter states.

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It doesn't take much. Porter suggests making just few changes in the foods you choose will go a long way. Here's what she suggests:

Eat high-fiber foods. Fiber binds to cholesterol and helps you excrete it. Oatmeal is easy to add to your diet, as is taking Metamucil or another form of psyllium each day. Other foods high in fiber include beans, fruits and vegetables."

Replace butter or margarine with olive oil. "Limiting milk fat in all your foods will help. Replace milk with coconut, rice, soy or almond milk. Eat low fat cheeses — say mozzarella versus sharp cheddar, and when you do have dairy, make sure it is skim or low fat.

Limit high-fat foods and choose lean meats. Skip the marbled steak and go for fish, elk, buffalo or chicken breasts instead.

Exercise daily. "Exercise increases your HDL cholesterol. For cardiovascular conditioning and to lower cholesterol, exercise 60 minutes per day. It doesn't have to be all at once."

Quit smoking or don't start. Smoking lowers your HDL cholesterol and increases heart attack and stroke risk.

Take medicines, if needed. If you have made lifestyle changes and maybe tried alternatives (such as fish oil and red yeast rice) with no luck, it might be time to see your doctor to discuss prescribed medicines.

Cholesterol and kids

Cholesterol is on the rise in kids and teens in the U.S. — a direct reflection of increasing obesity rates. Childhood obesity rates have more than doubled in children and tripled in adolescents in the past 30 years.

"It seems children are more sedentary today and eat less healthy diets than in the past. Combined, these changes lead to obesity," said Dr. Kelly Follett, Pediatrician with TMH Medical Clinic.

Kids who adopt healthy lifestyle habits can lower their cholesterol levels. One important change is limiting fast foods or foods high in trans fat — something that food companies have been pressured to remove and many are responding. Yet some foods are still notorious for having trans fats including bakery goods, fried foods, ice creams and more.

"Trans fats are popular with food manufacturers because it is cheaper than other options and it helps increase the shelf life and texture of foods. Trans fats have been found to increase LDL cholesterol and may decrease HDL cholesterol — so that's two good reasons to stop eating foods with trans fats," concluded Follett.

Want to find out your number? Men are welcome to take advantage of low-cost cholesterol screens at TMH Medical Clinic for "March MANness" during the month of March. The TMH Health Fair on April 26 will also offer cholesterol screenings.

This weekly article with tips on living well is sponsored by The Memorial Hospital at Craig — improving the quality of life for the communities we serve through patient-centered healthcare and service excellence.

Learn More About Kids and Cholesterol

Worried about high cholesterol in your kids? There’s good reason. Cholesterol is on the rise in children and teens in recent years. Having high numbers early in life can set the stage for future health problems. Making lifestyle changes now can make all the difference. Come learn about cholesterol in kids from our pediatricians, Dr. Kristie Yarmer and Dr. Kelly Follett. Light refreshments served.

What: Kids and Cholesterol

When: 5:30 to 6:30 p.m., Tuesday, Feb. 25

Where: TMH Conference Room, 750 Hospital Loop, Craig

Info: 970-824-9411, Free to attend

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