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According to the book I am reading, the average total cholesterol level for Americans is 220 mg/dl. For those with cholesterol at 240 mg/dl, death rate from cardiovascular disease is four times higher than average. For people who live in poorer countries and live on diets containing only whole grains, vegetables, and some animal foods, cholesterol levels are in the 120 – 160 range and cardiovascular disease is extremely rare.An interesting fact: cholesterol consumption has remained about constant for the last 100 years, while cardiovascular disease has increased 300% and cancer has increased 500%. So in those 100 years, what type of consumption has NOT remained constant? Sugars and fake, refined, processed foods. Again, this leads me to believe we need to focus on eliminating these “fake” foods we have introduced into the American diet and return to the way people used to eat: fresh, local, whole foods.
Someone with high cholesterol really needs to focus on increasing vitamin, mineral and antioxidant intake. I read that only 30% of people are actually subject to increasing blood cholesterol from increased consumption of cholesterol in food (animal foods). The other 70% are protected by an efficient regulating mechanism in which their body produces less cholesterol if they are consuming more, and produces more when they are consuming less. The point is, while eating animal food (meat, dairy, eggs) can increase cholesterol, it is more important and useful to focus on eliminating the processed, refined and fake foods that are so harmful to our health.
Cholesterol needs to be transported through our blood, and to do this requires binding to an essential fatty acid. Therefore, as I mentioned Monday and Tuesday, essential fatty acids are crucial for every diet, but especially for people with high cholesterol. After transport, cholesterol must be changed into bile acids so it is properly excreted. Vitamin C is required for this – another important nutrient for those trying to lower their cholesterol. When cholesterol cannot work the way it is meant to inside our bodies, we lose our health.
People trying to lower their LDL cholesterol should stay away from any excess or processed sugars, including boxed cereals, alcohol, cookies, cakes, pastries, bread products that are not “whole” grain or wheat, and flavored yogurts. If your LDL is really high, you may even consider reducing or eliminating honey and sweet fruits to see if that helps lower cholesterol levels. Refined, hydrogenated oils should AWAYS be avoided. Read labels!!!
Copper actually can be used to lower LDL cholesterol. Food sources of copper include beef liver (described by my Nutrients teacher as “the most nutrient-dense food you can eat” – more on this in a couple weeks!), rye, dried beans, cashews, black strap molasses, sunflower seeds, almonds, millet, prunes, pecans, and sesame seeds.
Chromium has also been known to lower cholesterol, in conjunction with niacin. Chromium is found in liver, green peppers, rye, carrots, apples, banana, spinach, cabbage and blueberries. Long term deficiencies in chromium lead to elevated cholesterol and triglyceride levels. Niacin is a B-vitamin (B-3) and food sources include liver, chicken, salmon, halibut, brown rice, sunflower seeds, almonds, whole wheat and eggs.
Remember, fiber is also needed because it removes excess cholesterol from the body. Good food sources include apples (with skin), beets, carrots, flax, beans, oats, cabbage, tomatoes, strawberries, pears and some types of seaweed. Also, cold-water fish such as salmon, trout, mackerel and sardines protect against cholesterol deposits.
In addition to lowering LDL, people with high cholesterol should focus on increasing HDL. HDL carries cholesterol to our liver for removal. We can increase HDL by consuming foods such as garlic, onions, ginseng, fish, chromium, vitamin C and vitamin E. Another great way to increase HDL (and our health overall) is to exercise more often. Below: Ed and me, with friends Mandy and Andy, after hiking to the top of Highlands peak in Aspen. Elevation: 12,392 feet. Exercise? I think so!
“Neither animal eaters nor plant consumers need fear cardiovascular disease is they take their foods from unrefined natural sources… Refined sugars, refined starches, hard fats, and refined, denatured oils from which vitamins, minerals, fiber, and protein have been removed should be expected to create problems. Sugar consumption and high serum triglycerides correlate with cardiovascular deaths at least as highly as do serum cholesterol levels.”
I hope the information on cholesterol the past few days has been helpful. Eat whole foods, and avoid processed foods. If you do have high cholesterol, please take it seriously. I know it’s not fun to make sacrifices in your diet, especially if you are still young, but long-term health is so important and really not worth compromising for a beer here or there or your daily Starbuck’s muffin. Make changes that will support your health – I promise it will be worth it!