In keeping with the theme of taking care of ourselves, let’s take a look at a very nasty, but silent problem that many people tend to overlook, until they get a scare with an angina attack, or something worse, cholesterol. Do you have any idea what your cholesterol numbers are at this point in your life?
According to the American national heart, lung and blood institute, nearly 1 out of 2 women has high or borderline high cholesterol. Which one of those two are you?
It is a good idea to have your cholesterol checked now, because then you will have a baseline of information. This is important because if your numbers are high, then you have time to work to bring them down before you get into real problems that can be caused because of too much cholesterol. These ‘problems’ can include angina, heart disease and strokes, to name just a few. None of these illnesses make our lives better, and most of them make it a whole lot worse.
First things first, what is cholesterol?
Cholesterol is a waxy, fat like substance found in our blood. Our bodies actually produce it. In fact, we produce all the cholesterol we need. Our body uses it to make hormones, vitamin D, and substances that aid in digestion.
The problem arises when we eat too many foods with saturated and trans fat. These fats are unhealthy for us, and may cause us to develop high cholesterol because our body can’t rid itself of all the extra, unhealthy fats we have consumed. Unfortunately, those unhealthy fats seem to be a lot of the tasty snack foods that we have known and loved while growing up. Think: full fat milk, butter, crispy fried foods, packaged crackers and cookies.
You may know that there are two types of cholesterol, the ‘good’ and the ‘bad’. Trying to make a play on ‘the good, the bad and the ugly’ leads us to see that the ‘good cholesterol’, also known as high density, or HDL, helps remove excess cholesterol from your body. The ‘bad’ cholesterol, known as low density, or LDL can form plaque or fatty deposits on your artery walls. Ultimately, this may block blood flow to the heart, or be one of the factors that leads to a stroke, or cardiac arrest. The ‘ugly’ is that unless we start to pay attention to our cholesterol numbers, we run the risk of some very unhealthy and possibly ugly outcomes.
What is a girl to do?
- First and foremost, get moving! It’s an old refrain, but in order to take care of you, you have to get your heart rate pumping. You know the drill, make sure you check with your doctor before you start any strenuous activity, but you deserve to have a healthy mid-life and beyond, so get up and get going! Start with walking and go from there!
- The doctors at Web MD reviewed numerous studies trying to find the link between exercise and lower levels of LDL in the bloodstream. It is now believed that exercise stimulates enzymes that help remove LDL from your bloodstream by transporting it to your liver, where it is converted to bile and then excreted. It’s another win/win situation! You get in shape, and you are doing good things for your cholesterol.
- The next thing you have to do is consider what you are eating. “A second on the lips, a lifetime on the hips’. Sound familiar? Well, those greasy fries, cookies, biscuits may all taste delicious, but they aren’t doing anything to help your cholesterol, or your hips!
- It really comes down to lifestyle choices. Chances are pretty good that you are the main grocery shopper in the house. Stop filling your pantry with things that aren’t good for your body! A carrot may not be as tempting as a handful of chips, but thinking bigger picture and long term health, maybe it will be tempting to know you are actively taking care of you by changing the food you eat on a daily basis.
- As for food suggestions, instead of overwhelming you, start with two small changes. First, a handful of nuts will begin to help lower your LDL. Just not too many, because nuts pack a powerful caloric punch. Second, start your day with some old fashioned oatmeal. I know this might have a serious ‘gag factor’ for you, or bring back traumatic childhood memories, but it’s time to move beyond that.
Here’s a really simple microwave recipe that has worked for me.
- 1/3 cup old fashioned oats
- 2/3 cup water
- ½ teaspoon of cinnamon
- pinch of salt
- handful of raisins, or cut up dates, or any dried fruit.
- Microwave for 2 minutes, stir, microwave for 2 more minutes.
The magic for me happens after I have cooked the oatmeal. On top of it I sprinkle a tablespoon each of chia seeds, sunflower seeds, pumpkin seeds and flax seeds. Le monsieur also throws fresh fruit on his oatmeal. I do treat myself to some brown sugar, but it’s not required. We have switched to almond milk, so I pour it liberally all over my oatmeal; it’s definitely a personal choice. I like my oatmeal to swim, ‘le monsieur’ likes his drier. Gag.
I eat this breakfast pretty faithfully every day. It has been one of the factors that has helped me get my cholesterol numbers down. You might also find that this oatmeal with the nuts, flaxseed and raisins helps you be a bit more ‘regular’, if you catch my drift. I just read Ina Garten’s blog, aka the ‘barefoot contessa’, and it seems that she has been eating oatmeal for breakfast for the past 10 years. If it’s good enough for her, then it’s good enough for me!. She does use a lot of salt to liven hers up, so be careful, especially if you are leaning towards high blood pressure.
You may have realized by now that this is an issue I have had to work on over the past few years. It has been a long, slow process, but finally, after going vegetarian and then mostly vegan, I have been able to get my cholesterol and triglyceride numbers down to the point where I am not looking at medications. I started with small steps like the ones above, but then decided that I had to make even more drastic changes, including cutting out all meat and most dairy. It has been fairly easy to do, because I have never been a big fan of meat, but I do fall off the bandwagon every now and then. If I do treat myself to something creamy or buttery, I don’t make a big deal about it, I just make sure that it doesn’t happen very often.
The bottom line is that I had to take control of my cholesterol, before it took control of me.
How about you? Why not get your cholesterol checked, and talk over the results with your doctor?
You deserve to take care of you!
Until next week,
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