How Knowing Your Numbers Could Save Your Life

How Knowing Your Numbers Could Save Your Life

My father had a heart attack at the age of 40. I lost my brother to heart disease at the age of 40. I recently turned 40 and, needless to say, I'm embracing a cardio-protective lifestyle in order to battle my genetic predisposition to heart disease. I can site many studies and articles on dietary interventions and heart disease, but the unarguable bottom line is that I'm confident and feel passionate in the fact that simple nutrition and exercise lifestyle habits can prevent the serious life-threatening consequences of cardiovascular disease.

First of all, it's important to know your family history; cardiovascular disease has proven genetic connections. Ask your parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins about their cardiovascular health history. Keep records for your children and grandchildren. This is precisely how we track trends throughout each of our families.

Secondly, and most importantly, it's important to “know your numbers” when it comes to your cholesterol profile. Don’t wait to do this when you're in your 40s. It is a simple and inexpensive test and you should have it done annually. Whether or not you have a family history of heart disease, every individual should know their numbers in order to assess their risk for coronary artery disease. Next time you have your annual physical or check-up, ask to have your blood cholesterol levels evaluated. If it’s your first time having this done, it will serve as a baseline measurement, which will lead to a blood lipid profile.

Understanding Your Lipid Profile

The following is an explanation of an ideal blood lipid profile:

  • Total Cholesterol indicates the amount of cholesterol that is circulating in your blood.
  • LDL, also known as “bad” cholesterol, transports cholesterol to artery walls, causing plaque build-up and increasing the risk of heart attack and stroke.
  • HDL, also known as “good” cholesterol, removes excess cholesterol from the arteries and brings it back to the liver for removal from the body.
  • Triglycerides come directly from fats you eat or from excess sugar and carbohydrates that are not used for energy. Alcohol also negatively impacts triglyceride levels.

Nutrition and Exercise Tips that can save your life

If your levels are not optimal or desirable, you may need to make a few changes in your diet. Typically an improvement in a blood lipid profile is seen within 12 weeks of consistent dietary changes. It is important to focus your intake on heart-healthy foods!

  • Fiber helps absorb excess cholesterol and free-floating triglycerides. Eat legumes, oats, whole fruits and vegetables to boost fiber intake.
  • Heart Healthy Fats like olive oil, canola oil, avocado, nuts, nut butters, seeds, flax seeds, and deep sea fish are excellent sources of omega 3 fatty acids.
  • Limit Saturated Fats and Hydrogenated Fats. Limit fatty meats, fried foods and most processed foods. Read labels and if you see a lot of saturated or hydrogenated fat in a product, put it back. Read ingredient labels. If you see “partially hydrogenated oil” on the ingredients list, put it back! Hydrogenated fats have been shown to increase cholesterol levels faster than saturated fats.
  • Soy products, such as tofu, edemame, soy milk and soy based protein powder, have been shown to have cardio-protective properties and improve cholesterol profiles.
  • Exercise! Managing and maintaining a healthy weight is imperative to controlling cholesterol. Exercise increases HDL (good cholesterol) just as well as consuming food sources of HDL. It also clears arterial cholesterol buildup and strengthens the cardiovascular system.
  • Reduce Sugar Intake. Sugar directly increase triglyceride levels. The less refined sugar you consume, the better your profile will be overall.

These guidelines may seem simple, but all too often, we forget about our body’s vulnerability to cardiovascular disease and we minimize the importance of a healthy diet and adequate exercise. It is a crucial component of prevention. The good news is that, through a healthy and mindful diet and adequate exercise, we all have the capacity to not only prevent cardiovascular disease, but to reverse it as well. That’s the power of healthy living!

This recipe embraces cardiovascular health. Give it a try!

Cheers to good heart health!

Registered Dietitian, Certified Specialist in Sports Dietetics, Triathlon Coach

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