Cholesterol: Get the Facts and Take Control

What is cholesterol and how does it impact my body? As a registered dietitian, those are two questions I’m commonly asked. Hopefully this post will help you better understand cholesterol and its effects.

Cholesterol is a type of fat found in your blood. Our bodies manufacture cholesterol. The waxy substance is also found naturally in animal foods, such as eggs, cheese and shellfish. We need it to help digest other foods and to make hormones and vitamin D, but too much of it can cause health concerns.

Approximately 17% of Americans have high cholesterol for a variety of reasons, most of which can be controlled. If you have too much cholesterol in your blood, it can harden and stick to your artery walls, causing them to narrow and result in a condition known as atherosclerosis. Clots can then form, further blocking the narrow arteries, and causing a heart attack. Eating a healthy diet, mostly plant foods, is one way to reduce the buildup of this fatty substance in your artery walls. High cholesterol levels – above 200 mg/dL or higher – can lead to heart disease.

To avoid having elevated cholesterol, make the following lifestyle adjustments.

  • Eat a diet that is low in saturated and trans fats.
  • Reduce your sodium intake.
  • Eat only enough calories each day to achieve or maintain a healthy weight.
  • Limit your carbohydrate intake. Complex carbohydrates are best: whole grains, fruits and vegetables.
  • Exercise daily. Just 20-30 minutes of aerobic exercise like biking, walking or swimming can help lower cholesterol.
  • If you smoke – QUIT!
  • Clean up your diet and prepare, cook and eat more of the foods that nature provides like fruits, veggies, nuts, seeds, whole grains, beans, peas and legumes. Eating a variety of these plant foods will ensure you receive plenty of nutrition, while still keeping your cholesterol intake to a minimum.

Take control and act now to lower your cholesterol and decrease your risk of heart disease!

–          Liz Erker, RD


How to Boost Vitamin D Intake

In the past 6 or 7 years, vitamin D has received quite a bit of attention due to the fact that many people have tested with low levels of the nutrient.  Numerous studies have reported on the benefits of adequate vitamin D intake. In fact, one study in The Archives of Internal Medicine found that those with sufficient amounts of the vitamin tend to live a longer, healthier life. Vitamin D has become a ‘super nutrient’  as it has shown it may lower mortality rates. It may also reduce one’s risk of cancer, type II diabetes, osteoporosis, as well as gum disease and Multiple Sclerosis.

It’s never too late to take in more vitamin D, even if you’ve tested low in the past. There are two ways for humans to get vitamin D: into the skin through sun exposure, and through diet.

Vitamin D through Sun Exposure

Of course being in the sun for extended periods of time without sunscreen is dangerous. However, it doesn’t take much sun exposure to get enough vitamin D into your body. All you have to do is expose your hands for 5-10 minutes, without sunscreen, two or three times a week and you will produce the maximum amount of the vitamin. Other than that exposure, you should wear sunscreen any time you are outdoors.


Vitamin D through Diet

Fatty fish provide the most vitamin D for your diet. Examples include 3 ounces of wild salmon, Atlantic Mackerel, sardines or shrimp (even though shrimp is not fatty, it has a decent dose of D). Other sources of vitamin D are Shiitake mushrooms, fortified milk (1% or skim), and egg yolks. Some cereals, cheese and yogurt are now fortified with vitamin D too.  If you are taking a Calcium supplement with vitamin D, make sure the D is in the form of D3, which is the most bioactive form.

The amount of Vitamin D you need each day depends upon your age. Average daily recommended amounts for adults 19-70 years is 600 IU. So make sure that you eat the foods fortified with Vitamin D, and the foods where it occurs naturally, as well as exposing your hands in the sun, unprotected for that short amount of time, & your levels should improve.

wild salmon