One of the biggest questions is get from my clients is about Cholesterol! My cholesterol is high, will this program help? My doctor wants me to eat a low fat diet to help with my high cholesterol. I have been tracking and I am concerned over all the fat I am eating, will is raise my cholesterol?
Oh the big cholesterol controversy! What is the deal with cholesterol and is it really fat that is increasing your numbers? Is having high cholesterol bad? Does fat contribute to high cholesterol or heart disease? My doctor wants me on a statin, should I take it? These are all common questions I hear daily!
The problem is most of us have little understanding about our cholesterol levels in our blood and the whole topic is more complicated than we thought. Just looking at total cholesterol is the biggest mistake we make! Total cholesterol does not give you the full picture of the health of your heart and simply reducing your fat intake will not necessarily improve your numbers!
One of the biggest refuse-to-die myths is that dietary and cholesterol levels are the enemy and a high-fat diet causes heart attacks. This has been drilled into us for the past 4 decades and some doctors STILL continue to give this extremely outdated advice! The more we look, the more we see that study after study shows no link between total fat, saturated fat, or dietary cholesterol and heart disease. And if fat was really the main cause then the fact that we eat 25% less fat today than we did in the 80’s should mean a reduction in heart disease NOT an increase like we have seen! Bottom line is we are just looking at the wrong things!
So now we know fat and dietary cholesterol are not the problem, so what is? Its sugar and refined carbs that contribute to diabetes, heart disease, and so many other problems. Remember above how I said we have been brainwashed to fear fat? Well even the government admits now that they were wrong. The 2015 U.S. Dietary Guidelines Committee reviewed all the research over last 4 decades and finally agree that we should not be worrying about dietary cholesterol. They also finally lifted any recommendations to restrict dietary fat after 35 years of a steady diet of low-fat recommendations! So why are people still telling us to eat low fat? We now know that it is not really the amount of fat you are eating, it is the type of fat that matters most! Trans-fats and refined vegetable oils promote abnormal cholesterol profiles; whereas, omega 3 oils from fish and monounsaturated fats found in nuts and olive oil can actually improve the type and quantity of your cholesterol. So for sure load up on healthy fats in your diet and focus on whole food nutrition with less processed foods!
Begin to focus on what is really the problem! Sugar and carbohydrates! The sugar you consume converts to abnormal blood cholesterol and belly fat. The biggest culprit of all is actually high-fructose corn syrup found in soda, juices, and in most processed foods. That’s what causes cholesterol issues in most people, not saturated or total fat. When you ingest fructose in high amounts without the fiber found in whole fruit, it turns on the cholesterol-producing factory in your liver called lipogenesis which makes super dangerous SMALL LDL particles, increases your triglycerides, and lowers the HDL (or good) cholesterol. So does sugar in any form, including flour and refined carbs. Therefore if you are looking to make a positive impact on your cholesterol and triglyceride number you must control your sugar and carb intake!
So what should we look at to determine if our heart is healthy? First consider your HDL levels, the good cholesterol! We want this number to be high and really the only way to increase this is with exercise! Ideally at least over 60 mg/dl is what you want! We know that low HDL (under 40 mg/dl) is a much bigger red flag for your risk of heart disease and a heart attack! So get that HDL up!
We must also stop looking at total cholesterol and start looking at the size of our cholesterol! Particle size testing is a must, request either an NMR Lipid Panel from LabCorp or the Cardio IQ Test from Quest Diagnostics. Other cholesterol tests are outdated. A regular cholesterol test won’t reveal particle size. Particle size testing is the only way to know what’s really going on with your cholesterol. You want to see results that show lots of safe, fluffy, BIG cholesterol particles. You do not want to see small, dense, artery-damaging cholesterol particles. So it is very possible to have high cholesterol numbers that once you look at the particle size, are not going to negatively impact your health! This is very important to know!
Also look at triglycerides! Elevated triglycerides are much more harmful than elevated cholesterol! Aim for less than 150 mg/dL! Triglycerides are a type of fat found in your blood. When you eat, your body converts any calories it doesn't need to use right away into triglycerides. The triglycerides are stored in your fat cells. Later, hormones release triglycerides for energy between meals. Regularly eat more calories than you burn, specifically sugar and carbs, could lead to high triglycerides!
So what’s the best advice for improving your cholesterol and triglyceride numbers?
1) Focus on whole food nutrition! Aim to reduce the amount of carbohydrates and sugars in your diet. You don’t have to be carb free or super low carb but reducing your intake will improve your numbers! Aim for tons of veggies that are high in fiber and filling! Aim for good lean protein sources and incorporate healthy fats like avocados, nuts, and olive oil. Cut out as much processed foods as possible! Shop the perimeter of the grocery store!
2) Drink more water! Aim for at least 64 oz of plain water each day in addition to the other fluids you are consuming!
3) Exercise! Regular exercise is the BEST way to increase healthy cholesterol HDL and we want that number to be high! Incorporating some high intensity exercise, even just 30 mins, most days will really help!
4) Get enough sleep! Adequate sleep is so important for health! Aim for 6-8 hours, reduce distraction around bed time, reduce caffeine and high sugar foods to help you fall asleep better!