In honor of February being Heart Health Month, I’d like to share a little story about my cholesterol scare a few months ago to encourage you to get your numbers checked and incorporate heart healthy foods into your diet.
Each year to be eligible for the lower cost health insurance option through my company, I must have my blood tested to determine my cholesterol, triglycerides and other important health factors. Until last summer, I’d never had an abnormal reading.
While on a business trip last August, I’d donated blood with a hospital that tested cholesterol. I’d gotten a ‘high’ reading so a few months later, I had my doctor re-check me.
I was re-tested right after my first surgery in October and got the results on a day that I was feeling particularly down. I needed to work on my cholesterol, the nurse told me. I cried- I’m generally a very healthy eater and an active person – how the heck did I have high cholesterol?! I felt like a failure, like my body was betraying me. What was I doing wrong?!
After a few days of sulking and analyzing every product I ate (and finding no cholesterol is most), I did some research and consulted my physician. It turns out, the nurse had misread – my overall cholesterol was high but my HDL/LDLs were more than optimal:
Tested: October 11, 2011
Total cholesterol: 243 (optimal is below 200)
HDL (good) cholesterol: 88 (optimal is 60+)
LDL (bad) cholesterol: 119 (optimal is less than 100 / near optimal is 100-129)
I learned that if I have an above average HDL count that it’s okay if my total cholesterol is ‘high’.
My body may not have failed me but I knew there were things that I could do to help keep my cholesterol under control.
Once I’d gotten the high cholesterol scare, I made a list of the foods I should be eating to bring my cholesterol down and started incorporating these foods into my daily diet. Even after knowing I have acceptable cholesterol, I continue to eat these foods regularly to keep my heart healthy and cholesterol down.
- Walnuts: polyunsaturated fatty acids help keep vessels healthy. Just a handful at a time for an afternoon snack.
- Oatmeal: High in fiber.
- Flaxseed/Salmon/Tuna/Fatty Fish: High in Omega-3 fatty acids which can reduce your blood pressure and risk of developing blood clots. I add 2 tablespoons of ground flaxseed to smoothies, baked goods.
- Spinach: Multiple phytochemicals, vitamins, and minerals to help ward off heart (and other) diseases. Swapped my regular spring mix greens for spinach when possible and added spinach to smoothies.
- Black beans, Broccoli: high in fiber. Incorporated more often as a side dish.
- Olive oil: Contains a potent mix of antioxidants that can lower your “bad” (LDL) cholesterol but leave your “good” (HDL) cholesterol untouched. Instead of other oils or butter, I use olive oil to saute veggies, bake fish, etc.
These are just a few of the foods that I made sure to eat (or keep eating) initially. There are so many heart healthy foods that you can incorporate into your regular diet – a list of 25 foods from WebMD can be found here!
I learned that cholesterol comes from eating animal products so naturally, by reducing the high cholesterol meats and bulking up on the healthy veggies, I can keep my cholesterol in check. Exercise can also help reduce cholesterol.
High cholesterol shows no symptoms and the only way to find out your numbers is by a quick blood test. My health insurance requires that I am tested each year and maybe your local blood donation bank tests your cholesterol too. Beware though: it’s just as important to know your HDL & LDL numbers as it is to know your total cholesterol numbers.
Of course, if you’re experiencing high cholesterol, you should definitely check with your doctor to form a plan of attack. I’m not a doctor or nutritionist of any sort. Just a girl sharing her cholesterol experiences, hoping to inspire you to keep your heart healthy too.