How To Improve Your Cholesterol Levels

As promised, this week I’ll give you a few easy tips to improve your cholesterol levels. Before I start though, I want to remind everyone that “improving” cholesterol levels does not necessarily mean lowering them.

If you remember my post about cholesterol, you’ll remember that the body creates and uses LDL as a temporary bandage that, once the threat to the body is resolved, HDL will transport back to the liver to be excreted. It is only when inflammation persists in the body that LDL becomes oxidized, hardening and risking blockages in the arteries.

In fact, low total cholesterol levels in the body have been linked to shorter lifespan! Therefore, for this post, we’ll talk about how to adjust your cholesterol levels to the optimal zone…as opposed to the range statin companies usually promote.

First off, the easiest number to alter is your HDL. This is what carries cholesterol back to the liver after it has served its purpose.

The best way to boost your HDL is to consume more monounsaturated fats, such as olive oil and avocado. Consuming these in a raw form, as opposed to cooking them, will be more beneficial. Also, conjugated linoleic acid (CLA) found almost exclusively in grass-fed beef and dairy, will help raise HDL.

In addition, weight training and moderate aerobic activity are shown to increase HDL.

Now, on to LDL. To reiterate, high LDL is not necessarily a bad or dangerous thing. However, LDL can become oxidized in the blood so I understand why people may want to lower their LDL numbers.

To lower LDL, be careful when consuming other saturated fats. Saturated fat is actually the safest to consume, and most stable source of energy for the body, but make sure you’re consuming it from natural sources. This would include coconut products (again, with minimal processing), grass-fed beef, and other humanely raised animals fed a natural diet, with plenty of space to roam and forage.

Exercise may also help control LDL levels since low-level aerobics will improve the body’s ability to metabolize fats for energy.

Finally, the only truly problematic form of cholesterol found in the body is triglycerides. Anytime you see claims that cholesterol in the blood is dangerous, I will guarantee the samples were people with extremely elevated levels of triglycerides and low HDL.

The best way to decrease your triglyceride count would be to avoid processed or heated polyunsaturated fats which are highly unstable and prone to oxidization.

I’m not saying to fear nuts and seeds and every food containing high amounts of omega-6 (the primary inflammatory constituent of poly-fats). Just avoid foods that are high in this AND have been processed or altered. Examples of foods to avoid would be corn oil, soybean oil, and other vegetable oils.

Finally, limit your sugar and refined carb intake. Again, no need to fear fruits, sweet potatoes or other whole foods; instead, skip the center aisles of the market made up of processed and packaged food.

Please keep in mind that all my suggestions of what to eat more or less of are based on the assumption that we already know things like candy, chips, ice cream, and soda are unhealthy. Fortunately, our health and nutrition systems have not yet become so infiltrated by major corporations that McDonalds and pizza is labeled as healthy.

Nonetheless, as exemplified by my own past food choices, there is still a great deal of confusion regarding what is optimal for our bodies. Just last month Mazola ran a massive marketing campaign (and must have spent billions of dollars) to convince researchers and doctors to claim that corn oil is “safer for the heart” than extra virgin olive oil!

And with that, we should all have a decent level of knowledge regarding what to consume and not consume to maintain the most beneficial cholesterol levels in our bodies.

Hope it helps!

My Nutritional Journey

Continuing the thread I started last time, this post will summarize my various experimentation and resulting experiences…this time regarding nutrition.

Growing up, I ate the Standard American Diet (SAD) – cereal and skim milk for breakfast, cold cuts or peanut butter and jelly sandwich for lunch, and a home-cooked meal (cheeseburgers, chicken and veggies, pasta, etc.) for dinner. When I got home from school I’d have two microwaveable pizzas, an entire box of cookies, or another less-than-optimal snack. On weekends we’d order pizza or go out for dinner and, on more nights than not, my dad and I would make ice cream sundaes. It was enjoyable…but I was chubby, suffered from severe acne, and wasn’t particularly active.  

I continued this way of eating until I discovered the world of bodybuilding in college. I learned about “clean” eating according to the governmental standards of our country. This meant I ate tons of carbs (over 50% of my daily calories), a moderate amount of protein, and low fat. I was still new to the health-world and impressionable so, every time I read a news article about risks of fat, cholesterol, salt, or meat, I’d cut back even further on these. Finally, by senior year of college I was a vegetarian – eating egg whites and oatmeal in the morning, then meals comprised of rice, quinoa, potatoes, vegetables, fruits, soy, dairy, or legumes for the rest of the day. I was miserable. I was bloated, had indigestion, suffered migraines, and experienced mood swings if I went more than 3 hours without eating. It got to a point where I was soaking my beans to remove excess salt from them and choosing medium-grain brown rice instead of long-grain because it had 1 more gram of (incomplete) protein per cup!

Two years ago, my mentor (who had been a “high-carb, low-fat” advocate) admitted he had been eating a “Paleolithic Diet” for over a year and was healthier than ever. His blood markers improved, his performance increased, and the aches-and-pains that were considered a side-effect of aging all but disappeared. I purchased The Paleo Solution, by Robb Wolf, to learn some of the science and rationale behind this alternative approach to nutrition. Robb is a strength and athletics coach with a degree in bio-molecular chemistry. I started consuming as much information from as many sources as possible and the science seemed to check out. I learned: eating cholesterol does not necessarily raise bad cholesterol levels in the blood; naturally occurring saturated fats do not “saturate” the blood resulting in blocked arteries and death; properly raised meat does not cause cancer.

 I decided to have my blood work done before making any changes, and then have it done after 30 days eating “paleo”. It’s possible to cherry-pick studies to make an argument for or against anything but a blood lipid-panel would show what’s truly happening in the body. After years of eating a doctor-recommended diet of high carb, low protein, fat, cholesterol and sodium, my LDL and triglycerides were “borderline high” and my HDL was “poor”. I’ll talk more about these terms and specific numbers another time but clearly, an American Heart Association (AHA) recommended diet was not working for me. After merely 30 days of eating paleo, my LDL and triglycerides lowered to “optimal” and my HDL went up to “best”. Not only had these markers improved but my digestion was perfect, my energy levels were stable, and my body composition was better. I’ve been eating paleo for over 2 years now. I check my blood regularly and my HDL is still on the rise and my triglycerides are still dropping – both very good signs of cardiovascular health.

I don’t want to turn these posts into short stories all about me so I’m going wrap up here. In my next post I’ll talk a little bit more about optimal eating habits and the pros and cons of different nutritional approaches. I’ve certainly experienced success using the paleo diet as a starting point, but, my goal on this blog will never be to push anything onto my readers. My only intentions are to provide a combination of personal experience and science so people can have an idea of what may improve their health and well-being.

Thanks for your patience over these past two posts! I wanted you all to have an opportunity to get to know me and my history in this world of physical health. Keep in mind, health is a lifelong process and I have many years to learn and experience even more. I hope you all take the journey with me and can find some value on this site.

See you soon!