The month of February is all about the heart! Along with Valentine’s day taking place in February, it is also American Heart Association Month. The heart symbolically represents love,
nd physically is responsible for pumping oxygen and nutrients throughout our bodies. Cardiovascular diseases can negatively impact the heart and prevent it from doing its job so it is important to focus on keeping your heart healthy. High cholesterol levels have been shown to cause negative effects on the heart such as heart attacks or strokes so focusing on keeping cholesterol levels at a healthy level is a great way to keep your heart healthy and able to do its job!
There are two different types of cholesterol, low-density lipoprotein (LDL), and high-density lipoprotein (HDL). LDL is the type of cholesterol that is considered ‘bad cholesterol’ and it is recommended that LDL levels should be below 130 mg/dL. High LDL cholesterol levels can cause blockages in blood vessels that can lead to heart disease. High LDL cholesterol levels can also affect the liver by contributing to non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD). NAFLD results in excess fat stored in liver cells of individuals who consume little to no alcohol. It can progress to liver cirrhosis and even liver failure similar to the damage heavy alcohol consumption would cause. High LDL cholesterol levels have been associated with an increased risk of NAFLD, yet another reason to focus on low cholesterol levels (1). So, what causes high cholesterol?
Recent studies have shown a link between excess refined carbohydrates and increased LDL cholesterol levels. Refined carbohydrates such as bread, potatoes, and sweets should be minimized because these foods increase blood sugar (3). Spikes in blood sugar, cause your body to produce more LDL cholesterol (bad cholesterol) decreases HDL cholesterol (good cholesterol), and also causes your body to store more fat (2). Decreasing refined carbs and sugary foods and replacing them with whole grains and foods high in fiber can help you keep your blood sugar and your cholesterol levels under control.
What changes can you make in your diet?
1. Focus on fiber
Foods high in soluble fiber help decrease cholesterol by absorbing in your intestines so that it can be excreted. Good sources of soluble fiber include:
Lentils and legumes
2. Replace refined carbs with whole grains
Whole grains are higher in protein, fiber, and lower in sugar so they will not cause blood sugar to spike. Whole grain swaps include:
Quinoa and brown rice instead of white rice
Whole grain bread instead of white bread
Whole wheat pasta instead of regular pasta
Whole grain cereals such as oatmeal and shredded wheat instead of refined sugary cereals
3. Snack on Nuts
Nuts can lower the risk of heart disease by lowering LDL cholesterol, triglycerides, and inflammation in the body. Nuts can also raise HDL cholesterol or “good cholesterol.” Incorporate nuts in your day by eating them for a snack or adding on top of salads or other dishes. You can also easily consume nuts in nut butter and put on top of fruit, crackers, or toast. Eat a variety of nuts to receive the heart-healthy benefits.
4. Eat fish twice a week
Observational studies have found individuals who eat fish regularly have a lower likelihood of heart attacks. Fish is high in omega-3 fatty acids that help to protect our hearts from heart disease. The fish highest in omega-3 fatty acids are; wild-caught salmon, tuna, sardines, and herring. Fish can be prepared in many different ways that are delicious, such as baking, sautéing, or grilling. If you do not enjoy the taste of fish, you can simply take an omega-3 fatty acid supplement to receive the benefits.
5. Spice up your food without salt
Reducing salt intake can help to lower blood pressure. Sodium can raise the sodium level in your bloodstream, making it harder for the kidneys to remove water from your system. Therefore, your heart may have to work harder and result in higher blood pressure. Try these different ways to add flavor to your food without using salt: herbs, lime, lemon, cumin, paprika, pepper, salt-free blends (Mrs. Dash).
6. Eat dark chocolate
Dark chocolate has heart-healthy flavonoids. Flavonoids help lower inflammation in the body and reduce the risk of heart attacks. Bioactive components in dark chocolate can reduce the risk of cholesterol, creating plaques in the arteries. Plaque is a blockage of blood flow to the heart leading to heart attacks. Also, studies have found that components of dark chocolate are found to lower blood pressure. Look for dark chocolate, over 70% to receive the heart-healthy benefits. Make your loved one dark chocolate covered strawberries this Valentine’s day for it is the perfect heart-healthy dessert!
Our heart health should be important year round, we need our hearts to function properly so that we can live long and healthy lives. Focusing on keeping your cholesterol at a healthy level is a great way to protect your heart, and other parts of your body including your liver. I hope you find this information helpful. If you are struggling with cholesterol levels and need more knowledge and support to make necessary dietary changes, please contact me through my website or instagram page to learn more about my nutrition counseling program!
Mayo Clinic. (2020, October 21). Nonalcoholic fatty liver disease. Retrieved from https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/nonalcoholic-fatty-liver-disease/symptoms-causes/syc-20354567
The Cleveland Clinic. (2020, August 14). Why a Sweet Tooth Spells Trouble for Your Heart. Retrieved from https://health.clevelandclinic.org/sweet-tooth-spells-trouble-heart/
University of South Florida Research. (2020, July 6). New recommendations: People with high cholesterol should eliminate carbs, not saturated fat. Retrieved from https://www.eurekalert.org/pub_releases/2020-07/uosf-nrp070620.php