There are steps that everyone can take to help prevent heart disease and
heart attack. Here's the bottom line:
- Choose foods low in saturated fat.
- Exercise regularly.
- Lose weight if you are overweight.
- Get routine health checkups and cholesterol screenings.
If your cholesterol levels are high, these recommendations are very important
steps for bringing your cholesterol under control. (And if your cholesterol
levels are ok now -- congratulations! But these steps still help prevent heart
disease down the road.)
We know that it can be tough to make changes to your lifestyle. Below are
some guidelines for building healthy habits.
Choose foods low in saturated fat
Food labels are one of the best tools for eating healthy. For lowering cholesterol,
pay particular attention to these items on the label:
- Total fat
- Saturated fat
Of these, the most important by far is saturated fat. (Calories are
important for weight control, which is described later in this step.)
On the food label, look at the column called "%DV". This stands for "Percent
Daily Value." As an example, if the food label for a candy bar says "60%" next
to saturated fat, that means you are getting 60% of that day's entire recommended
allowance of saturated fat in just one serving of that candy bar.
Keep track of what you eat over the day, and try to stay below a total of 100%.
Here are some other considerations about food labels:
- When looking at food labels, pay very close attention to serving size.
These can fool you. At first glance, you might conclude that eating the whole candy
bar gives you 60% of your daily saturated fat -- but upon closer inspection
of the food label, you can see that in this example a serving is actually half of
the candy bar. If you eat the whole candy bar, you have now consumed over
100% of recommended saturated fat for the day. (60% x 2 = 120%).
- The U.S. government came up with the %DV as a simple way to show the good
and bad ingredients in a specific food. However, keep in mind that your individual
weight and health risks make a difference in what you can or should eat.
The %DV is based on a diet of 2,000 calories a day. You may need to eat more
or less than 2,000 calories a day depending on your weight.
- Each day, your total of the "bad ingredients" (fat, cholesterol, sodium)
should not go over 100%. In contrast, your total of the "good ingredients" (vitamins,
fiber, protein) should be at least 100% each day.
- The %DV on the food label for TOTAL fat is something to watch, especially
because it usually means high calories. It is not as important as saturated
fat, however, because it also may include unsaturated fats, which
More tips for healthy eating
- Choose lean, protein-rich foods such as soy, fish, skinless chicken,
very lean meat, and fat free or 1% dairy products. Substitute soy protein
for animal protein in your diet, particularly if you already have high cholesterol.
- Eat foods that are naturally low in fat, like whole grains, fruits,
and vegetables. Eating lots of fruits and vegetables (at least 5 servings
per day) provides fiber and other important nutrients, including B vitamins,
minerals, and antioxidants (like vitamin E, vitamin C, selenium, and beta-carotene).
- Increase soluble fiber in your diet by selecting foods like oats,
bran, dry peas, beans, cereal, and rice. Fiber may also give you a sense
of fullness so that you don't eat as much, making weight loss somewhat easier.
- Choose soft margarines (liquid or tub) over stick margarine to limit trans-fatty
acids. Margarines made from plant sterols or stanols may be particularly
useful for those who already have high cholesterol.
- Foods rich in omega-3 fatty acids may reduce triglycerides, raise HDL levels,
and reduce your risk of heart disease. Such food sources include cold-water
fish (including wild salmon, tuna, and mackerel), fish oils, flaxseed and
flaxseed oil, canola oil, soybean oil, and nuts (especially walnuts and almonds).
- Folic acid, also called vitamin B9, may help lower the risk of heart disease
in those with high cholesterol.
Foods to avoid
- Limit your consumption of fried foods, processed foods, and commercially
prepared baked goods (such as donuts, cookies, and crackers)
- Limit animal products like egg yolks, cheeses, whole milk, cream, ice cream,
and fatty meats. These are all high in saturated fats.
- Look on food labels for words like "hydrogenated" or "partially hydrogenated" --
these foods are loaded with saturated fats and trans-fatty acids, and you
should avoid them.
You knew regular physical activity was good for you, but did you know that
it helps keep your cholesterol levels healthy? It can actually help raise HDL
(good) cholesterol and lower total and LDL (bad) cholesterol. Try to exercise
at least 60 minutes on most days. Exercising also helps you lose weight, lowers
your blood pressure, strengthens your heart and blood vessels, and reduces
Start your exercise program slowly. Work to build your endurance up to 60
minutes a day. In the beginning, splitting it up into 20-minute segments may
work best. Consider joining a health club, YMCA, or other exercise group to
help you stay motivated.
You should check with your health care provider for exercise suggestions appropriate
Lose excess weight
Overweight people tend to have higher cholesterol levels than people who maintain
a healthy weight. Losing weight can help to lower your LDL cholesterol. For
people who have multiple risk factors for heart disease (such as high cholesterol,
diabetes, and high blood pressure), losing weight is especially important.
For people with large waists (35 inches or more in women; 40 inches or more
in men) losing weight is important. When excess weight is concentrated in the
abdominal area, your risk for cardiovascular disease, diabetes, and high blood
pressure increases significantly.
The healthiest and longest-lasting weight loss happens slowly, by losing 1
- 2 pounds a week. If you cut 500 calories a day by eating less or burn an
additional 500 calories per day by increasing your physical activity, you should
lose 1 pound (equal to about 3,500 calories) a week.
Check with your health care provider for weight-loss recommendations. Losing
10% of your weight may improve your cholesterol levels. (For example, if you
weigh 200 pounds, dropping 20 pounds can help your cholesterol.)
A.D.A.M. Editorial: Greg Juhn, M.T.P.W., David R. Eltz, Kelli A. Stacy. Previously reviewed by Alan Greene, M.D., F.A.A.P., Department of Pediatrics, Packard Children's Hospital, Stanford University School of Medicine; Chief Medical Officer, A.D.A.M., Inc. (10/31/2006)
The information provided herein should not be used during any medical emergency or for the diagnosis or treatment of any medical condition. A licensed medical professional should be consulted for diagnosis and treatment of any and all medical conditions. Call 911 for all medical emergencies. Links to other sites are provided for information only -- they do not constitute endorsements of those other sites. © 1997-
A.D.A.M., Inc. Any duplication or distribution of the information contained herein is strictly prohibited.