The Real Scoop on Cholesterol
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November is National Diabetes Awareness Month. Do you know where your blood cholesterol levels are? Make this month a time to take steps towards feeling and living your best! We’re helping you to “Be Smart About Your Heart: Control the ABCs of Diabetes.” Managing the diabetes ABCs – which are the A1C test, Blood Pressure, Cholesterol, and Stopping Smoking – can help lower one’s risk for heart disease.

Experts have known for decades, due to hundreds of research trials, that saturated fat raises blood cholesterol.1 However in recent news, there has been much buzz over the notion that full fat dairy is fine and that saturated fat isn’t the culprit it was made out to be. That fact is, only a minority of studies have shown no association between saturated fat intake and elevated blood cholesterol levels. This may have been due to study design – for example, relying on food recall (which varies day to day), ineffective research methods, or research bias related to funding sources. The vast majority of studies still show a link between saturated fat consumption and cholesterol levels. The message remains: cut back on saturated fats (from meat, whole milk or 2% dairy, and butter) and replace them with healthy fats (such as oils, nuts, seeds, fish and avocados).2

In study after study, saturated fat has been shown to raise LDL cholesterol, also known as “bad cholesterol”.2,3 In the past, I worked in clinical research studies where I was fortunate to provide nutrition counseling every two weeks for a year. In a control group, we replaced saturated fats with mostly healthy plant based fats, switched to non-fat dairy, decreased meat and increased fish, and we saw LDL cholesterol come down. I’ll never forget when the head of the clinic came to me and said, “What are you doing with these patients? I can’t believe how much their LDL has come down.” That’s the power of a great combination of sound nutrition advice to cut back on animal protein that is high in saturated fat, full fat dairy, and replace saturated fats with healthy fats. Of course, bi-monthly follow up and emotional support helps too! It’s easier to encourage and make small diet changes with a cheerleader and educator you see regularly.

It’s also important to completely eliminate trans-fats from your diet to lower your LDL cholesterol levels! Per Dr. Janet Brill, RD author of Prevent a Second Heart Attack, “Research has shown that people with the highest levels of trans fatty acids in their cell membranes have a three-fold greater risk of having a heart attack and a 1.5-fold greater risk of having a fatal cardiac event compared to individuals with the lowest level of trans fatty acids. Another major review on the health effects of trans fat concluded that on a per-calorie basis, trans fat increases risk of heart disease more than any other nutrient. A 2 percent increase in calorie intake from trans fat was associated with a 23 percent increase in new cases of heart disease. Concern over dietary trans fatty acids has led some scientists to state that trans fat is more detrimental with respect to promoting heart disease than even saturated fatty acids”.4-6

What you can do to lower cholesterol

Most Americans have an overabundance of saturated fat in their diets, accompanied by excess refined foods and excess calories. One of the easiest and most cost effective ways to naturally lower cholesterol and reduce your risk of heart disease is changing your diet. Try following an OmniHeart diet or Therapeutic Lifestyle Change diet to improve your heart health. In these diets, the focus is on eating more vegetables, fruits, and fiber, choosing food items that are low in sugar, selecting the right grains (whole grains), and substituting saturated fat with heart healthy fats. Commit to making some healthy changes that work for you and your lifestyle!

view references
  1. Chowdhury R, Warnakula S, Kunutsor S, Crowe F, Ward HA, Johnson L, et al. Association of Dietary, Circulating, and Supplement Fatty Acids With Coronary Risk: A Systematic Review and Meta-analysis. Ann Intern Med. 2014;160:398-406.
  2. Appel LJ, Sachs FM, Carey VJ et al. Effects of protein, monounsaturated fat, and carbohydrate intake on blood pressure and serum lipids: results of the Omni Heart randomized trial. JAMA. 2005; 294, 2455–2464.
  3. Siri-Tarino PW, Sun Q, Hu FB, Krauss RM. Saturated fatty acids and risk of coronary heart disease: modulation by replacement nutrients. Curr Atheroscler Rep. 2010;12:384-90.
  4. Katcher HI, et al. “Lifestyle approaches and dietary strategies to lower LDL-cholesterol and triglycerides and raise HDL-cholesterol,” Endocrinology Metabolism Clinics North America. 2009; 45–78.
  5. Mozaffarian D, et al. “Trans fatty acids and cardiovascular disease,” New England Journal of Medicine. 2006; 345:1601–1603.
  6. Ascherio A, et al. “Trans fatty acids and coronary heart disease,” New England Journal of Medicine 340, no. 25 (1999): 1994–1998.
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