We all know that cholesterol is the main cause of heart attacks. There are two types of cholesterol — good and bad. LDL is bad cholesterol, while HDL is considered to be good cholesterol. Certain factors like a sedentary lifestyle, smoking, drinking in excess, diabetes and bingeing on fatty, processed food lead to increase in cholesterol levels.
High cholesterol in the blood initiates the process of plaque formation, which narrow the arteries and leads to heart diseases. Reducing bad cholesterol and increasing the good cholesterol significantly lowers the risk of heart attack. High levels of HDL protect the heart and blood vessels by reducing LDL cholesterol in blood. It is healthy to maintain the HDL level at 40mg/dl and above and LDL level below 130 mg/dl.Reasons for low HDL
The most obvious cause of low HDL is genetics. Family history of heart problems or cardiovascular problems can prevent the liver from producing sufficient HDL. Making simple lifestyle and dietary changes can greatly improve HDL levels in most people, but for some individuals, medication may be necessary.
Here are some of the ways to raise HDL levels:
*Add soluble fibre to your diet, in the form of oats, fruits, vegetables and legumes. A minimum of two servings a day is recommended.
*Choose the better fats. Minimise the usage of foods containing saturated fat and trans fats. Instead, choose monounsaturated fats, since they lower the risk of heart disease. Foods rich in healthy fats include olive and canola oil, nuts like almonds, walnuts and peanuts and seeds like sesame seeds and flax seeds.
*Eat foods rich in phytosterols. Phytosterols are plant cholesterols that can significantly lower cholesterol levels. Soy and soya products are rich in phytosterols.
*Reduce your intake of simple carbs.
*Exercise regularly. It is the duration and regularity of exercise rather than the intensity that influences HDL levels.
Since there are no symptoms of high cholesterol levels, most people do not know that they are susceptible to heart disease. Take charge of your health and find out your cholesterol levels.
Dr Anjali Mukerjee is a nutritionist and founder of Health Total, a nutrition counselling centre