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Too much cholesterol in the blood can lead to cardiovascular disease, which is the leading cause of death in the United States. Cholesterol in the blood is a combination of cholesterol in food (dietary cholesterol) and cholesterol produced in the liver. Dietary cholesterol is about 25% of blood cholesterol, and the body produces the remaining 75% of cholesterol. Since cholesterol cannot dissolve in the blood, lipoproteins carry it to and from the cells of the body. Lipoproteins are proteins that pack and transport fat and cholesterol in the bloodstream. Low-density lipoprotein, or LDL, is known as “bad” cholesterol. High-density lipoprotein, or HDL, is known as “good” cholesterol. The right amount of the right type of cholesterol will make a significant difference in the health of your heart.

Fats are essential for a balanced, heart-healthy diet, but not all fats are created equal. They are called triglycerides. Triglycerides are the chemical form of fats in food and in the body. They are found in food, the plump areas of your body, and in your blood. Your body makes them from the food you eat, uses them for energy right away, and stores the excess in your fat cells for future use. Some of this triglyceride storage is called “pinching an inch” of belly fat.

Think of fats as building blocks and triglycerides as building blocks. Each triglyceride “brick” consists of a mixture of three fatty acids, saturated, monounsaturated, and polyunsaturated (the “tri”), and one molecule of glycerol, hence the name “tri” – “glyceride”.

A particular fat is defined by the combination of fatty acids that make up the “building blocks” of monounsaturated fatty acids (MUFAs), polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFAs), and saturated fats (SAT fats). Animal Fats and Trans Fats – Chemically altered synthetic fats found in partially hydrogenated oils.

Most people can lower their harmful cholesterol and triglyceride levels with a lifestyle modification of diet and regular exercise. Use these 7 tips to lower your cholesterol and triglyceride levels, and start building your heart-healthy profile now.

1. Change it. Make it a priority to eliminate high-calorie and high-fat foods that are the main dish in most fast food restaurants. When snacking, refuse salty fries and fat-laden dips, and avoid sugary drinks that promise to increase your risk of heart disease and raise cholesterol and triglycerides. Instead, eat fresh fruits and vegetables, fish, and whole grains.

2. Move it. If you move it and you can lower it. Vigorous exercise, such as brisk walking, is powerful in reducing unhealthy fats in the blood. These levels can drop between 20% and 30% when you start moving.

3. Lose it. If you are overweight, losing weight can lower your bad cholesterol, LDL. Losing more weight will reduce it even more.

4. Correct size to avoid portion distortion. To properly size your meals and avoid portion distortion, start with the end in mind by investing in measuring cups, spoons, and an inexpensive scale. Eat like you plan to eat again. Use a lunch plate and measure your portions the serving size according to the label.

5. Read it first. Before eating it all, read all the information on the food label first. This will tell you how much of what is in each serving size serving. Saturated fats and trans fats increase cholesterol levels. Limit your intake to small amounts of foods that are high in saturated fat and trans fat, such as potato chips, ice cream, donuts, muffins, and other processed foods.

6. Bake. Even if the food is good and healthy, the way you prepare it will make a big difference. Frying adds fat, so bake, broil, or grill delicious heart-healthy meals using herbs, spices, and little salt to make it an experience not just a meal.

7. Snack. Snack with whole-grain starches, which are high in fiber. The double benefit is that they take longer to chew and make you feel fuller for longer.

Use these 7 tips to help lower your cholesterol and triglycerides. Start with your next meal or snack and stay focused.

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