Your blood cholesterol level is a major indicator of the diet that you are eating. If your cholesterol is higher than 200 mg/dl (or your LDL-bad guy cholesterol is above 130 mg/dl) you probably are eating more saturated fat from meat and dairy products and too much cholesterol from eggs, meat, processed meats (sausage, lunch meat, etc.) and dairy products.
A high intake for saturated fat and cholesterol is associated with a very high risk for heart attack, stroke, high blood pressure, diabetes, obesity and cancer. These are major killer diseases for Western people. Vegetarians and societies that have low intakes of these animal products have much lower rates of all of these diseases.
Of course, you inherit genes from your parents that affect your blood cholesterol. I inherited high cholesterol genes from my mother and my LDL- (bad guy) cholesterol runs above 200 mg/dl if I do not watch my diet carefully. Since I inherited obesity genes from my dad who was very obese and high blood pressure genes from my dad (who had his first stoke at age 47), I need to watch my own diet very closely.
Most folks can reduce their risk for heart attack, stroke, high blood pressure, diabetes, obesity and cancer by 50 to 75% through diet, exercise and weight management. Even if your mother, aunts and sisters had breast cancer you can reduce your own risk by more than 50% through lifestyle measures.
Mark Twain said, “The only way to keep your health is to eat what you don’t want, drink what you don’t like, and do what you would rather not do.” On a recent cruise, we observed that most folks choose to do what they like rather than do what they don’t like.
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High intakes of animal protein are associated with high rates of coronary heart disease. However, high intakes of soy protein are associated with low rates of the disease. Research shows that soy foods offer more protection for your heart than any other food that can be consumed.
- Soy foods reduce the risk for heart attack and stroke by lowering the bad LDL-cholesterol by 15 to 30 points and lowering triglycerides while raising the good HDL-cholesterol.
- They also lower blood pressure, thus reducing risk for heart attack and stroke.
- Soy foods contain isoflavones with potent antioxidant properties that act to protect the arteries from oxidized fats by preventing the oxidation of lipid particles.
- Soy foods act to reverse hardening of the arteries in a similar manner to the statin drugs. Evidence indicates that the combined use of soy protein, soluble fiber, and plant sterols have the potential to decrease serum LDL-cholesterol values by 25-30% which is equivalent to the effects of the statin drugs.
- They improve blood vessel health by helping the blood dilate to increase blood flow to the heart or brain.
After reviewing clinical studies of soy foods, the FDA approved the health claim that daily soy intake is heart-healthy. There is an overwhelming amount of research supporting the claim that soy can help prevent heart disease.
For a happy heart, enjoy two servings of soy protein per day, as I do. Increasing your soy food intake can provide you with long-term heart protection; the sooner you start enjoying soy the better for your health.
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Soy foods have been used around the world for thousands of years because so many people realize its healthy qualities. Extensive research documents the many health benefits of soy foods; the FDA approved the health claim that daily soy intake is heart-healthy. Soy foods are produced from the soybeans grown in the United States and other countries. These foods are nutrient-rich foods that contain the following:
- high-quality protein
- healthy fats
- plant estrogens (isoflavones)
- vitamins and minerals
The advantages of whole soy foods, as opposed to foods with soy ingredients, are that the whole soybean has many health promoting benefits in addition to those provided by the ingredients alone. Some popular whole soy foods include whole soybeans, green soybeans, also known as edamame, and dry roasted soy nuts. In order to experience the benefits of soy foods, two of the following serving sizes are recommended per day: ½ cup of cooked soybeans, 2/3 cup of green soybeans in the pod, 1 oz of roasted soy nuts, one glass of soy milk, ½ cup tofu, or six grams of isolated soy protein.
Research shows the following conditions and diseases benefit from soy foods:
- Coronary heart disease, stroke, and high blood pressure: View blog, “Soy for your Heart” for more details.
- Menopause, breast cancer, osteoporosis: Read blog, “Soy and Women’s Health,” for more information.
- Cancer: See upcoming blog, “Cancer Fighting Food: Soy.”
- Diabetes, obesity, kidney disease: Upcoming blog titled, “Soy for Renal Health,” will have more details.
Soy foods are one of the healthiest foods you can put on the table and are a tasty way to add variety to your diet.
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Recently a journalist asked me to explain the different forms of cholesterol. Sometimes explaining the cholesterol number is time consuming and health care professionals only mention the total cholesterol. I try to explain to my patients these numbers and goals.
The LDL ‘bad guy’ cholesterol is the most deadly form and a desirable number in less than 130 mg/dl and an ideal number is less than 100.
The HDL ‘good guy’ cholesterol is protective from heart attack and higher is better. Desirable for women is 50 or higher and for men is 40 or higher. A 60 mg/dl HDL number is ideal and protective. If the HDL number is more than half of the LDL number your probably are protected and in good shape.
Triglycerides, the other blood fat, should be lower than 150 mg/dl.
What is a good ratio? An ideal LDL/HDL ratio for women is 100/55 or 1.8 while the ideal for men is 100/45 or 2.2. The lower the ratio the better.
How can I improve my cholesterol numbers?Smoking increases risk of heart attack and lowers HDL. Exercise increases the HDL.
To decrease LDL, diet is the answer. Lose weight to desirable weight, mimimize animal fat intake (red meat, cheese, butter), increase fiber intake from whole grains, fruits, vegetables, oat cereals. Soy protein, two servings per day from soy milk, edamame, soy nuts, or tofu lower cholesterol. Psyllium fiber supplements are ways for busy people to get in their soluble fiber. I recommend oat cereal for breakfast, 4 psyllium capsules with lunch and four with dinner.
Why is high cholesterol so bad? High cholesterol levels increase risk for heart attack, stroke, heart failure and circulation problems. The same habits that raise the cholesterol also bring on diabetes prematurely.
Is it OK to eat eggs? Eggs are a concentrated from of cholesterol in the diet that I recommend avoiding altogether. Egg substitutes make good omeletes and go into recipes. Even if your LDL cholesterol is low, eating eggs increase your risk for heart attack and stroke.
In a nutshell, what are your recommendations? The major things that affect LDL cholesterol are genes and diet. You can’t change your genes but most people can lower their LDL cholesterol by 30 to 70 points through diet, weight loss and exercise. Weight loss can lower the LDL by 20% (30 points) and raise the HDL by 10-25% (5-15 points). Exercise can raise the HDL by 25-50% (10-30 points). The diet to lower LDL cholesterol is low in animal fat (avoid the yellow death– eggs, butter, cheese), minmize intake of red meat, sausage, pork bacon, high fat dairy (full fat milk, ice cream) and excessive oil of any form (in salads, in cooking). Olive oil is very high in calories and should be used sparing. Be sure to get in three servings of whole grains, at least five servings of fruit or vegetables, and soluble fiber from oat products or psyllium fiber supplements.
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