Edited by Rachel Stevenson, Owner of Reshaping Nutrition LLC
Hearts often become the topic of conversation in February. Not only is February the month of Valentine’s Day, it is also heart health month! It is evident that the number one killer in America is heart disease, and while this disease is partially genetic, there are ways it can be avoided.
Most people recognize an association between cholesterol and myocardial infarctions (heart attacks). However, some may not truly understand the relationship between the two, so I am going to explain things to make the relationship a bit easier to understand. Cholesterol is found in all animal food sources, such as meat, poultry, eggs, fish, and dairy. Our bodies also naturally produce cholesterol, as we are not separate from the animal kingdom. Although cholesterol is necessary for cell function, too much of it in the diet raises the risk of heart disease. There are ways to combat against cholesterol build-up.
Lipoproteins are a type of transport vehicle in the body. There are different types, including low-density lipoproteins (LDLs) and high-density lipoproteins (HDLs). LDLs have a damaging effect on the body. The purpose of LDLs is to share its cholesterol contents with cells in the body. In other words, this type of lipoprotein basically leaks its fatty contents into the cells. This inherently causes plaque formation and inflammation, which ultimately raises the risk of heart disease. To lower the LDL count in the body, consume a diet low in saturated fat and trans fat. It is necessary to avoid trans fat all together—any trans fat consumption is harmful to the body. Trans fat can be found in premade baked goods. All animal products with the exception of fish contain higher levels of saturated fat; however, lean meats and poultry contain much less saturated fat then fattier cuts of meat, such as beef and pork.
It is important to note that the cholesterol content on the food label isn't nearly as important as the saturated and trans fat content. Saturated fat and trans fats seem have a greater impact on our overall cholesterol numbers. Many of us avoid eggs, shrimp and other high cholesterol foods. While it is important to eat these foods in moderation, it is even more important to limit and/or avoid high fat meats, cheeses, and dairy products.
In addition to the appropriate diet, the American Heart Association strongly recommends at least 150 minutes of moderate exercise per week. Moderate activity includes walking and light housework. A healthy diet will not compensate for inactivity. Furthermore, it is essential to read food labels. Check for trans and saturated fats, which are more destructive to the body than cholesterol. Trans and saturated fats cause inflammation (which is directly linked to heart disease), while small amounts of cholesterol are needed in the body. Additionally, sodium should be checked because it can raise blood pressure, which increases the risk of stroke. With better awareness of the science behind our diets, we can all become heart-healthy!