You don’t need to shy away from fat if you have high cholesterol.
WHY LOWERING THIS OFTENMISUNDERSTOOD SUBSTANCE IS ONLY HALF THE STORY
You’ve read plenty of articles on how to lower cholesterol. But that’s not the whole story. Instead of focusing only on how high or low your numbers are, think about optimizing cholesterol.
Low-density lipoproteins (LDL) and high-density lipoproteins (HDL) are usually classified as “bad” (LDL) or “good” (HDL) cholesterol. But recent studies have pointed out the importance of LDL particle size. Research shows that people who have a higher quantity of small, dense LDL particles and a lower quantity of large, fluffyLDLp articles have a three times greater risk of heart disease. Small, dense LDL particles are more likely to enter blood vessel walls, become oxidized, and trigger the process of atherosclerosis, which increases the risk of heart attack. Large, fluffyLDL particles, on the other hand, may be protective against heart disease.
Other studies show an inverse relationship between triglyceride levels and LDL particle size—higher triglycerides correlate with small, dense LDL particles, and lower triglycerides correlate with large, fluffyLDLp articles. AnLDLp article number( c all edLD L-P) maybe more important than the total amount of cholesterol within these particles. Th ink of cars on the highway: the number of cars on the road (LDL particle concentration) is more likely to cause a traffic jam than the number of passengers in the car (total LDL cholesterol).
Th e bottom line? HDL and LDL levels, LDL particle size and concentration, and triglyceride levels are all important factors in your total cholesterol profile. So instead of just lowering your cholesterol, focus on fixing it. Here’s how :£
Even a few extra pounds can contribute to heart disease, and losing as little as fi ve percent of your body weight can significantly improve your cholesterol profile. Studies show that obese people tend to have a higher ratio of small, dense LDL particles, low HDL levels, and high triglycerides, and losing weight can have a dramatically beneficial effect on cholesterol size and numbers. In fact, one study found that weight loss was superior to exercise in reducing small, dense LDL particles.
Note that this isn’t an excuse to avoid exercise. Studies show that 9–10 miles of walking or jogging per week results in a 13 percent increase in HDL cholesterol levels and a 14–20 percent decrease in LDL cholesterol levels. Other studies show that even moderate exercise can increase LDL cholesterol sizes and reduce the number of small, dense particles.
Sleeping too much or too little can have a negative impact on cholesterol. In one study, researchers found that sleeping fewer than
fi ve hours a night increased triglycerides and reduced HDL levels in women; conversely, women who slept more than eight hours showed similar results. Too little sleep can also lead to high LDL levels and make heart disease more likely. Studies have shown that people who sleep less than six hours a night significantly increase their risk of cardiovascular disease.
It is thought that the genes responsible for cholesterol transportation are not as active in people who suffer from sleep deprivation, and it is possible that too much sleep may also impact those genes. Other studies have linked sleep deprivation with increased belly fat, which can also impact cholesterol levels. And further research suggests that improving sleep quality can reduce the number of small, dense LDL particles.
EAT A HEARTHEALTHY DIET
Dozens of studies have shown a link between diet, healthy cholesterol levels, and heart disease. Focus on foods that have been shown to improve cholesterol and keep your ticker strong:
Healthy fats. Olive oil, nuts, and avocados are rich in monounsaturated fats, linked with reduced risk of cardiovascular disease and improved lipid profiles.
Fish. Omega-3 fatty acids in salmon, sardines, tuna, and mackerel have been shown to lower triglycerides, which is associated with a decrease in small, dense LDL particles.
Fiber. Soluble fi ber in oats, oat bran, sweet potatoes, beans, lentils, and vegetables has been shown to lower total LDL as well as reduce the number of small, dense LDL particles.
Fruit. Apples, grapes, strawberries, and citrus are high in pectin, a form of soluble fi ber that lowers LDL levels.
KICK THE CARBS
A high-carb diet has been linked with elevated triglycerides, which are associated with an
increase in small, dense LDL particles. In fact, studies show that when the carb content of the diet increases, fat in the diet goes down but the content of fat (triglycerides) in the blood rises—a condition known as carbohydrate-induced hypertriglyceridemia, and one reason why a low-fat, highcarb diet does not protect against heart disease. A diet high in refined grains also leads to insulin resistance, inflammation, and metabolic syndrome, also linked with increased triglycerides.
Th e solution? Banish refined sugars, sweets, and grains from your diet. Th is means avoiding candy, cookies, pas-
tries, fruit juice, white fl our, and alcohol—even a small amount can trigger elevated triglycerides. Focus instead on high- fi ber, nutrient-dense carbs such as sweet potatoes, beans, winter squash, rutabagas, quinoa, and buckwheat; studies show fi ber lowers both LDL and triglycerides.
SUPPLEMENT WITH STEROLS
Found naturally in a variety of foods, plant sterols (phytosterols) work by interfering with the body’s absorption of dietary cholesterol. Some studies show that taking 2 grams a day can lower LDL cholesterol by as much as 20 percent. Other