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September National Cholesterol Education Month

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More than 65 million Americans have high blood cholesterol, a serious condition that increases risk for heart disease.

High blood cholesterol itself does not cause symptoms, so many are unaware their levels are too high. Lowering cholesterol levels that are too high lessens the risk of developing heart disease and reduces the chance of having a heart attack or dying of heart disease.

September is National Cholesterol Education Month, a good time to get your blood cholesterol checked and take steps to lower it if it is high. Everyone age 20 and older should have their cholesterol measured at least once every 5 years.

Tips to stay heart smart about cholesterol:

--Know your numbers. For total cholesterol, a desirable number is less than 200 mg/dL. High-density lipoprotein or "good" cholesterol protects against heart disease, so for HDL, higher numbers are better. A level less than 40 mg/dL is low and is considered a major risk factor. HDL levels of 60 mg/dL or more help to lower risk for heart disease.

--Nutrition matters. Soluble fiber helps reduce low-density lipoprotein, the "bad" cholesterol, and foods such as oatmeal; kidney, navy, pinto or black beans; apples; pears; barley; and prunes contain soluble fiber. Eating fatty fish (such as mackerel, lake trout, herring, sardines, Albacore tuna, salmon, and halibut) can be heart-healthy because of omega-3 fatty acid content, which can reduce blood pressure and risk of developing blood clots. Doctors recommend getting two servings of fish a week. Walnuts, almonds and other nuts can also reduce blood cholesterol.

--Choose healthier fats. A high intake of saturated fat is associated with high levels of total cholesterol and LDL cholesterol. Limit foods high in saturated fat and replace them with foods rich in mono­unsaturated and polyunsaturated fat. When making food at home, replace solid fats (e.g., butter, lard) with vegetable oils rich in monounsaturated fats (such as canola, olive, and safflower oils) and polyun­saturated fats (such as soybean, corn, and cottonseed oils) and trim fat from meat. When purchasing food, buy fat-free or low-fat milk and cheese.

--Physical activity. Research shows exercise helps prevent heart disease and obesity, lowers blood pressure and LDL cholesterol, and raises HDL cholesterol. Aim for 30 to 60 minutes on most days. You can even spread it out over the course of your day. Remember to try different activities and find something you enjoy. Finding a workout buddy or group may also be helpful and keep you accountable.

--Weight. Losing weight can help lower your LDL, triglyceride, and total cholesterol levels, as well as raise your HDL levels. Losing as little as 5 to 10 pounds can help reduce cholesterol. Consider your barriers to losing weight and ways to overcome them. If you eat when you're bored or frustrated, do something physically active instead. If you eat fast food for lunch, pack something healthier from home.

A variety of things can affect cholesterol levels. While age, gender, and heredity are things you cannot do anything about, nutrition, physical activity level, and weight status are things you can do something about.

Take time this September to get your levels checked if you never have or it has been longer than five years. Check out food.unl.edu for more food, nutrition, and health information.



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