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FOR RELEASE: August 23, 2001
CONTACT: Dick Gunn
405/271-5601

Cholesterol Control Can Reduce Risk of Heart Disease

Heart disease continues to be the number one killer of both men and women in the U.S. More than one million Americans fall victim to a heart attack each year, and as a result, about half die. The culprit is the build up of cholesterol-containing plaque in the arteries that, over time, narrow and sometimes close blood vessels. The result can be reducing or blocking blood flow, causing a heart attack to occur. During September, Cholesterol Control Month, health officials want to educate the public about ways to control cholesterol and help prevent heart disease.

Cholesterol is a waxy substance naturally made in animals and humans, and is found in animal food products. People need to know what their total blood cholesterol is in order to set appropriate diet and physical activity goals. To be heart healthy, a total blood cholesterol below 200 is considered normal and safe. It is equally important to know how much of the cholesterol is “good” and how much is “bad”. Cholesterol is transported in the blood as a part of lipoproteins. High-density lipoproteins (HDL) are a measurement of the “good” kind of cholesterol. HDL collects cholesterol as it passes through the body and facilitates its disposal from the body. Low-density lipoproteins (LDL) are a measurement of “bad” cholesterol. LDL tends to linger in the blood and deposit cholesterol in blood veins. HDL cholesterol for men should be above 35; for women, it should be above 45. Normal LDL is less than 130.

Dietary strategies are used to help manage cholesterol levels. Foods that contain saturated fat, trans fatty acids, and cholesterol all raise blood cholesterol levels. Saturated fats are found in animal products and tropical oils like coconut, cocoa butter and palm oils. The major sources of saturated fat in American diets come from meat, dairy products and poultry skin. A good rule of thumb is, if a fat is solid at room temperature, it is saturated. Replace saturated fats with unsaturated fats – monounsaturated and polyunsaturated. Monounsaturated fats include olive, peanut, and Canola oil and polyunsaturated fats include corn, sunflower, and safflower oil. Some fish contains oils that are beneficial to the heart, so it would be wise to include cold-water fish like salmon, halibut, and mackerel in your diet each week.

Research indicates that trans fatty acids raise cholesterol levels. Trans fatty acids are created through a process called hydrogenation. Foods like muffins, cakes, crackers, vegetable shortening, and stick margarine contain hydrogenated or partially hydrogenated oils. Currently, manufacturers are not required to list trans fatty acids on food labels, so look for the words “hydrogenated” or “partially hydrogenated” and limit their intake.

Cholesterol is particularly high in egg yolk, organ meats and dairy fats. One egg yolk contains almost an entire daily-recommended allowance of cholesterol at 210 mg. Three ounces of beef liver contains 331 mg compared to only 75 mg for 3 ounces of steak or chicken breast (no skin). A good rule of thumb is to limit dietary cholesterol to no more than 300 milligrams per day, and limit fat intake to no more than 30 percent of total calories consumed every day.

Other cholesterol-lowering tips include:

  • Increase your intake of water-soluble fiber like grapefruit, bananas, apples, legumes, oatmeal, and carrots.
  • Achieve and maintain a healthy weight. Too many calories from any food source will result in weight gain. If you are overweight, take steps to reduce your weight.
  • Increase physical activity. Check with your doctor about increasing physical activity levels. Be physically active for at least 30 minutes on most days.
  • If you smoke, quit.

There are also a number of cholesterol-lowering drugs available from your doctor. By following these dietary guidelines and your doctor's advice, you can reduce your risk of heart disease and stay healthy and fit. For more information about cholesterol and nutrition, contact your local county health department.

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