Shed U: Cholesterol

by Rachel on February 12, 2010

Good morning!!

You know I had a rather sizable boner last week for Go Red Month, but just because February is nearly half over doesn’t mean it’s time to forget about heart-healthy living. In conjunction with Fitbook, today I am joining a blogger initiative to blog my heart out — and remind you to keep thinking of your heart all month long!

Although I already went over some general ways to take care of your heart (intervals! boning!!), today I thought I’d focus today on a big risk factor: cholesterol!

I think cholesterol is one of those things a lot of young women don’t necessarily understand or find of particular importance. They may think high cholesterol only happens in older people, in men, in people who eat burgers all the time, in people who are overweight. WRONG. WRONG, WRONG, WRONG.

Here are some facts:

  • Cholesterol is a waxy, fat-like substance that is made in the liver and found in animal products.
  • We do need cholesterol for bodily functions, but when we have too much (usually from our diets), it causes plaque to build up in our arteries.
  • Boring science shit: cholesterol travels on protein molecules. Cholesterol + protein = lipoproteins.
  • There are two types of lipoproteins: LDL and HDL. LDL is bad cholesterol; it can lead to heart disease. HDL is good cholesterol (it essentially gets rid of the bad stuff). I remember this because LDL is a LOSER and needs to be LOW and HDL is a HOTTIE and needs to be HIGH! (And now you know how I passed the ACE Fitness exam. “Mean Girls” mnemonics.)
  • Your cholesterol numbers (which you need to – NEED TO – have tested in a lab) can be influenced by a number of things: diet, weight, age, activity level, and genes.

By the way — if your diet sucks, or everyone in your family has high cholesterol, you also will very likely have high cholesterol, even if you are at a “healthy weight.”

OK, so let’s say you haven’t had your cholesterol levels checked yet but you are next week (like me). Fine. But let’s just err on the side of “lowering LDL and raising HDL” and adopt some healthy habits. Here’s how we do it…

  • You know how Cheerios are always saying they are heart-healthy? It’s because of the soluble fiber. Oats and fruits have it too. Soluble fiber traps cholesterol in your digestive tract so it doesn’t get into your blood stream. So just another reason I’m telling you to EAT MORE OATMEAL!
  • Peace out, saturated fat! Saturated fat is not good for you. It’s not essential. And you know what? It’s not found in plants. So eat more plants. Eat less bacon. Hard, I know, because bacon is delicious, but things like bacon, fatty cuts of red meat, and full-fat cheese have way too much saturated fat to be the main staple of a healthy diet. (Hear me on the full-fat cheese point, carb-and-cheese vegetarians!)
  • Don’t give up eggs. That eggs will raise your cholesterol is a myth. Eggs are boss, so keep on eating them!
  • Think about the positive – the HDL. Can’t lower the L? Then raise the H! Do it with OMG! fatty acids (Trader Joe’s salmon burgers, $5 for five burgers, frozen section…I think we’re done here) and almonds and walnuts.
  • Get your body in motion! I imagine arteries are like a river with water flowing through. If the river is filled with rocks and mud, it’s much harder for that water to flow. But if the water starts gushing, it can loosen up some of the rocks and mud and carry them away. That’s what happens when you exercise – that blood pumping helps keep deposits from sticking around.
  • Here’s the other sweet thing about exercise: it not only lowers LDL, but it also raises HDL. That, my friends, is the free gift with purchase. But the HDL increase is dependent not on intensity or frequency, but on duration. OK so you wouldn’t only spend $18 if you got the free gift at Clinique with a $22 purchase…so don’t go to the gym and then half-ass your way through a 20 minute workout. Get sweaty and stay sweaty longer!

And are you noticing a trend here? Oatmeal, salmon, almonds, and exercise are the solution to a TON of health problems. Seriously, health and weight loss isn’t just about what you DON’T do…it’s about what you DO do! I always tell people, if I can’t get you to give up certain things, then I at least want you to commit to adding certain things. (Because I know that the more little good things you add, the less crappy things you have room for, and things will eventually tip toward healthy.) Do I eat bacon once a week? Yup. But I do cardio five times a week and eat oats and almonds seven times a week. And my cholesterol digs that ratio!

By the way, if you need another reason to eat oats, let me present my latest endeavor in heart-healthy porn. I give to you…whole grain oats, almond butter, cinnamon, pear, dried cranberries, crushed almonds, and white chocolate chips.

[Technically speaking, I suppose yes, dark chocolate chips are heart healthier, but I mean, given my personality….I’m obviously just a white chocolate kind of girl.]

Enough talk! Go forth and be healthy!

{ 11 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Joanna Sutter February 12, 2010 at 8:19 am

Great 411, Rach! Thanks for blogging your heart out! You rock the Go Red movement!
.-= Joanna Sutter´s last blog ..Brownie Points =-.


2 Leah (Nutritionista) February 12, 2010 at 8:40 am

Recently, I’ve just been reading a lot of research saying much of what we know about cholesterol/saturated fat is based on faulty research. Basically, scientists are finding that the research connecting sat fat to heart disease is flawed AND they’re seeing more and more research showing that sugars and grains are correlated with heart disease much more strongly. I’m still trying to decide how I feel about the issue, but I’m starting to understand the science behind it. What do you think?

For more info, read this:

An excerpt:

As far as heart disease goes, I still have yet to hear a workable process by which saturated fat contributes to it. It increases LDL, but the LDL it increases is large, fluffy, and almost impossible to oxidize. The layman’s notion of saturated fat literally clogging up the arteries like grease in a drain isn’t taken seriously by researchers anymore (who know it’s really all about inflammation and oxidized LDL), but it’s still the most prevalent explanation for why saturated fat is so bad. We now know that the HDL/triglyceride ratio is far more predictive of cardiovascular events than LDL, but still LDL gets all the attention. The “alternative hypothesis” (which is really the one that makes the most sense) focuses more on oxidized polyunsaturated fats and imbalanced Omega-6/Omega-3 ratios rather than saturated fat intake, which (as is pretty obvious by now) doesn’t matter one way or the other. The observational data doesn’t add up, the actual physiological process can’t be explained, and the body seems to prefer saturated fat. I have to ask… if we know that arteries don’t “clog up” from concentrated fatty acids in the blood like bad plumbing and that SFAs aren’t prone to oxidation, just what is the issue with saturated fat and heart health?
.-= Leah (Nutritionista)´s last blog ..Visit MTM today for a curried sweet potato soup recipe featuring… =-.


3 Rachel February 12, 2010 at 11:31 am

Leah — That’s SO interesting about the saturated fat research…I actually hadn’t heard any of that before!! It’s so frustrating how science is constantly telling us what’s “bad” is good and vice versa. I guess given that info, it’s best to focus on things like good foods to add and exercise. I will definitely be reading more of that research and watching the video!

Erin — That’s sweet that you were able to change your number so significantly!! Sometimes food is a great medicine!

Laura — Ummm remember when I said I’m crazy busy right now? It’s because I’m taking on a ton of new projects — including pretty much what you suggested!! The local sororities are about to get a nice lesson in Shed U!


4 Katie@ Two Lives, One Lifestyle February 12, 2010 at 8:50 am

Yay, glad you included that eggs are good! I could go back to my biochem notes (I’d rather not) but I remember learning about how cholesterol in the body is made and it’s not from cholesterol in food. Dietary cholesterol does not equal blood cholesterol.. like dietary fat doesn’t equal body fat (well if you eat WAY too much of any nutrient it equals body fat). Anywaysssss, it drives me nuts and glad you said something! Though I just read the post above and I gotta read more of that.
.-= Katie@ Two Lives, One Lifestyle´s last blog ..Tex-Mex Kitchen Staple Salad =-.


5 Rebecca February 12, 2010 at 9:02 am

love this post. You are VERY good at explaining “boring” topics in a fun, interesting, and memorable way. :)
.-= Rebecca´s last blog ..Jivamukti Yoga School =-.


6 Teri [a foodie stays fit] February 12, 2010 at 9:06 am

Sometimes I hate genetics. I eat well and exercise and still have borderline high cholesterol.

Happy Friday!
.-= Teri [a foodie stays fit]´s last blog ..Oats in a jar blow me away…and so does the wind =-.


7 erin February 12, 2010 at 9:10 am

my cholesterol is genetic. it’s high, and it’s not even funny. it got to the point where I was just like — seriously I should be dead. but the thing is — I was on medicine for a year and a half, and that did NOTHING for me. so i went onto being a vegetarian – but i ate fish every now and then. and paired that with running. that lowered it by like 50 points. I’m not sure what it is now — I just really don’t like the idea of finding out if my cholesterol’s still high, and I have to go back on meds. but oh yeah – i eat oatmeal every single day for breakfast! YUMMMMY!


8 Leah (Nutritionista) February 12, 2010 at 9:24 am

Another good explanation (this time in video form!):
Rachel, I’m curious to hear what you think!
.-= Leah (Nutritionista)´s last blog ..Visit MTM today for a curried sweet potato soup recipe featuring… =-.


9 Laura Georgina February 12, 2010 at 9:32 am

Too right! You have such a knack for explaining these things . I was writing some health articles for my freelance newswire gig last night, in the necessary brief and boring tone, and thought, “Hmph, I bet Rachel would make this sound interesting and fun and just a bit dirty, too!”

You’d be an awesome health/wellness speaker to go around on college campuses and knock sense into young ladies with your mean girl mnemonics and shed U video antics….
.-= Laura Georgina´s last blog ..Costume Prep, Part 1,257 =-.


10 Jodi (jodiojo) February 12, 2010 at 1:17 pm

Rachel! We at MP4 are totally smitten with you! Umm, LOVE YOU! Great post, great food porn (Kas is on it, I’m sure!) and thank you for just being the bomb! Woop woop!!:o)


11 Carla February 16, 2010 at 1:41 am

Are you really giving speeches?!?! Let me know! I’d love to attend! I could use some witty dialogue to pass on to my students! Plus I think I may be taking my ACE exam here in the near future :)


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