(Family Features) - Any journey begins with the first step. So why not take time this September, National Cholesterol Month, to begin your journey toward better health? When you follow tips from the American Heart Association, the path to well-being for you and your family can be easy - and life-saving.
Coronary heart disease is the single largest killer of Americans, so managing cholesterol levels and taking care of your heart can help you lead a longer, healthier life. Who wouldn't be happier about that?
"It's simple to get started on the road to heart health," says Alice Lichtenstein D.Sc., Gershof, Professor of Nutrition, USDA Human Nutrition Research Center, Tufts University and Chair of the American Heart Association Nutrition Committee. "Be aware of your blood cholesterol levels." If you are told lower your "bad" cholesterol, select foods low in saturated and trans fats as well as cholesterol, such as skim milk, lean meats, poultry, fish and plenty of fruits and vegetables. "And," she says, "get up and move! Even small changes can add up to significant benefits."
What Is Cholesterol?
Cholesterol can be both good and bad, so it's critical to learn how it affects your health, what your levels are and how to manage it.
- LDL (low-density lipoprotein) cholesterol is considered "bad" cholesterol, because it can build up as plaque and clog arteries. A level of 130 or less is near optimal for most people; 160 or higher increases the risk of heart disease.
- HDL (high-density lipoprotein) cholesterol is the "good" cholesterol. Medical experts believe it removes excess cholesterol from the arteries. A level of 40 or less increases the risk of heart disease.
- Triglyceride (TG) is a form of fat, and many people with heart disease and high LDL levels have high TG levels, as do diabetics and obese people. Levels of 150 are normal; 200 or more may require treatment.
To control your cholesterol, the American Heart Association recommends you get a cholesterol screening, maintain a healthy weight, be active, follow your healthcare professional's recommendations and eat foods low in saturated fat and trans fat, as well as cholesterol.
It's really this easy: Get yourself and your family into the healthy habit of activity. You don't have to call it exercise or working out. Simply look for chances to be more active during the day. Walk the mall before shopping, choose a flight of stairs over an escalator or take 10- to 15-minute walking breaks while watching TV or sitting for some other activity. Use variety to keep your interest up. Walk one day, swim the next, then go for a bike ride on the weekend.
Build a Healthy Diet.
Smart eating can help lower your cholesterol and maintain a healthy blood cholesterol level. So make sure you're selecting the right foods and:
- Watch calorie intake by eating a wide variety of foods low in saturated fat and cholesterol.
- Eat at least five servings of fruits and vegetables; more is better. Diets high in fruits and vegetables are associated with decreased risk of cardiovascular disease.
- Eat six or more servings of whole-grain cereals, breads and pasta.
- Eat fish, poultry without skin and leaner cuts of meat instead of fatty ones.
- Eat fat-free or 1% dairy products rather than those from whole milk.
Heart-healthy eating is good for everyone. And creating a balanced, nutritious eating plan is as simple as 1-2-3 with the help of the association's distinctive red heart with the white check mark. First, log on to heartcheckmark.org. There, you'll find a complete list of food items certified to be heart-healthy. Second, create and print your healthy-diet list to take with you to the supermarket. Third, look for the heart-check mark while shopping to easily and reliably find heart-healthy foods in your grocery store.
To learn more about reducing the risk of heart disease and stroke through good nutrition, visit americanheart.org or call 1-800-AHA-USA1 for your free copy of the "Shop Smart with Heart" brochure.