PSA: Watch your cholesterol

[avatar user=”dponieman” size=”thumbnail” align=”left” link=””]by Diego Ponieman M.D., M.P.H.[/avatar]

September marks the beginning of National Cholesterol Education Month. Millions of Americans of all ages, genders, and ethnicities struggle to maintain healthy cholesterol levels, which is why it’s important to know how to prevent and manage high cholesterol.

A 2017 study found that 95 million U.S. adults age 20 or older have higher than recommended cholesterol levels, putting them at heightened risk for medical complications. Furthermore, a National Center for Health Statistics study found that high cholesterol levels are more prevalent among Hispanic and non-Hispanic Asian adults.

Your cholesterol level is comprised of low-density lipoproteins (LDL) and high-density lipoproteins (HDL). Having a high amount of HDL can help prevent heart disease, while having high levels of LDL can negatively impact your health. While your body needs cholesterol to build cells, having too much can hinder blood flow putting you at a higher risk of having a stroke or developing heart disease.

While in some cases high cholesterol can be inherited, most people develop the condition because of unhealthy habits. Many factors can contribute to high cholesterol including smoking, diabetes, and lack of exercise, but one of the most important factors is poor diet.

Eating highly processed foods can increase your cholesterol levels significantly. Things to watch out for on food labels include trans-fat, saturated fat, sodium, and, of course, sugar. The DASH diet is an excellent nutritional plan that can help you avoid over-consuming foods and drinks that will contribute to high amounts of HDL in your blood.

Following the DASH diet means increasing the amount of vegetables, fruits, and whole grains you eat while limiting foods high in fat, sugar, and salt. Multiple studies conducted by the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute found that eating DASH-approved foods can help you lower your blood pressure and cholesterol, key factors in preventing cardiovascular disease.

Eating healthily doesn’t have to be boring or bland, however. The SOMOS blog includes many delicious and simple recipes that you can incorporate into your diet to manage cholesterol. From overnight oats to empanadas, there are dozens of exciting dishes to choose from.

Every four to six years, you should ask your doctor to check your cholesterol to ensure that you have a healthy level. If you have already been told that you have high cholesterol, you should be tested more frequently. And, as always, talk to your doctor before beginning any dietary plan, including DASH.