Cholesterol Tests : What the Results Say About Our Health
Jan 31, 2020 09:00AM
By Bridgitte Carroll
When we think of heart health, good cholesterol levels come to mind. A primary care doctor can test them yearly, which gives the notion that they’re an excellent indicator of health from year to year. This isn’t the case for most healthy people. In contrary to how Western medicine approaches cholesterol, studies show that slightly elevated levels (200-240 mg/dL) are actually protective of health. Countries with the lowest heart disease risk have moderately high cholesterol levels. However, if your doctor or dietitian is worried about elevated cholesterol levels, try determining the root cause of the dysfunction and make nutrition or supplement changes.
Out of all foods and food additives, trans fat is the most problematic for heart health. Even the government has caught onto this with legislation that food products must contain under a certain amount of trans fat. But that begs the question, why is any amount allowed in foods? When looking at an ingredient label, trans fat will be categorized as partially hydrogenated oil. Avoid it. Better yet, buy more food products without labels.
Another fat under scrutiny is saturated fat. Saturated fat gets a bad reputation, and for some with certain genetics, it may be helpful to be reduced. The largest source of saturated fat in the American diet comes from beef, however, well-raised, grass-fed meat will have lower levels of a type of inflammatory saturated fat called arachidonic acid and higher levels of omega-3s. Eat locally sourced, grass-fed beef once per week and your heart should stay healthy.
High cholesterol levels are also not only an issue of the wrong types of fats in the diet, but a sugar consumption issue. Those with high cholesterol many times have elevated glucose levels. Evaluate with a dietitian how much added sugar is in the diet. Sugar is sneaky and in many packaged products. When looking at nutrition labels, 4g of added sugar is equivalent to 1 teaspoon of sugar. That yogurt with 20g of added sugar means your day starts out with 5 teaspoons of pure cholesterol-increasing glucose. Stay away.
Besides total cholesterol, there are other in-depth and state-of-the-art testing that will be better markers of nutritional and cardiovascular health. The omega-3 index is a marker of anti-inflammatory fatty acid balance. Most people are deficient in anti-inflammatory omega-3s, so adding fatty fish such as salmon and sardines two to three times per week, or a high-quality fish oil at 1 to 3g total of EPA + DHA per day may be helpful. There are sources of omega-3s other than fatty fish, however, their anti-inflammatory properties are not as high. These sources include flax, chia and walnut.
Whether your doctor has marked your cholesterol high or excellent, be sure to evaluate these markers with an integrative practitioner or dietitian. Nutrition can be tailored to blood testing and genetics. Additionally, there is more in-depth testing that will give your practitioner a better clue about how to support heart and overall health.
Bridgitte Carroll, MS, RDN, LDN, is an integrative and functional dietitian in Waltham, MA. She works one-on-one with clients utilizing a systems approach to get to the root cause of bodily imbalances. She is currently accepting new clients at Johnson Compounding and Wellness and appointments can be made at Calendly.com/Bridgitte-Carroll.