Oh my gosh. I have high cholesterol. I’m 31 years old! How could this be?! I don’t eat meat. I try not to eat too much dairy or too many grains. I try to eat mostly vegetables, beans, nuts and seeds, eggs, and fruit. I exercise AT LEAST three days a week (180 minutes), although I typically shoot for four or five (210-250 minutes). My weight and BMI are in the healthy range for my age, height, and activity level. I’ve never had any sort of bloodwork done, but in order to avoid paying an extra $600 (!) for health insurance, I had to do a wellness screening. They did a basic panel testing for total cholesterol, HDL, LDL, triglycerides, and sugar.
My triglycerides and sugar were great - cholesterol, not so much. Although my total cholesterol fell in the range in which it “should be” (don’t even get me started), my HDL was two points below the range they want it to be in (40-60), and my LDL was 122. It is supposed to be 100 or lower. 100. When I was in school studying dietetics, it was supposed to be under 130. So if I’d had these numbers on a panel 10 or 12 years ago, 122 would have been perfectly acceptable. I always wonder if these numbers are actually, truly, scientifically based, or if it has more to do with selling statins, as statins are the second top selling drug in the United States, and most of the drugs are quite pricey. BUT I’ll try to keep my opinions on that to myself....
Knowing that my maternal grandparents, as well as my mom, have high and borderline high cholesterol levels, respectively, I guess I shouldn’t be too surprised with these numbers. In my experience, I’ve found that genetics tend to play a bigger role in cholesterol levels than lifestyle (what we eat and how active or inactive we are). Heredity high cholesterol is called familial hypercholesterolemia, and unfortunately not much in the way of diet or exercise will help to lower cholesterol levels to the number “experts” recommend they should be. (Genetic testing can be done to determine whether or not a person truly has familial hypercholesterolemia.) Often times individuals with familial hypercholesterolemia are prescribed statins to regulate their cholesterol levels. Personally I’ll take my chance with having borderline high LDL levels – have you READ the side effects of statins?!
Lifestyle and diet do play into cholesterol levels, even for individuals with familial hypercholesterolemia. Elevated levels of blood sugar over time can increase LDL and decrease HDL levels and can also cause extra weight gain. Both obesity and large waist circumference are also linked with high cholesterol levels, as are smoking and inactivity.
So what can you do to lower your cholesterol levels? Precision Nutrition has a GREAT list with ten lifestyle tips to lower cholesterol/keep your cholesterol levels good, and you can check it out by following the link at the bottom of this page. Avoiding added sugar and processed foods, following a plant-based or mostly plant-based diet, and getting at least 150 minutes of exercise a week can give you a great start to getting your numbers down. Unfortunately we sometimes have to deal with “bad” genes that lead to higher cholesterol levels, and we have to put up more of a fight than those other lucky people to get those levels down.
I’m taking my lab results with a grain of salt and am not going to worry too much about slightly high LDL and slightly low HDL levels. My plan of action is to do a little better diet wise – more veggies and less to no added sugar. If I start exercising more, I’ll be living in the gym, so I don’t plan to change much in the way of my activity level. I likely won’t be doing anymore bloodwork until this time next year, but I will update this blog post with new levels the next time I get them checked!
Think positive, stay active, and smile. -A