Cholesterol Management for the Complete Idiot


You may remember the book that was for Volkswagen repair for the complete idiot. It was called the Step-by-Step Procedures Manual for the Complete Idiot. I think when most people are told by their doctor after an annual lab test that they have high cholesterol, they feel like a complete idiot. Most people think they can’t eat another burger for the rest of their lives. Others think they would do anything not to become a bunny hugger, and still others hold on to their cigarettes for dear life.

Here is my disclaimer; Let me start by saying that I am not a doctor or dietitian, nor do I do one on TV. I have been a personal trainer since 1976 and have successfully trained clients of all ages, shapes, and levels of health. Through research and ultimately my husband’s and my diagnosis of high cholesterol, I began to focus on the details. Then I realized how much I didn’t know. I am a Certified Sports Nutritionist with a passion for cooking and knowing the details and components of my meals for maximum health. And one more thing… I’m approaching 70 years old.

What’s the story of Cheerios, statins, or cholesterol in general? Unless you go online and do some specific research, you will usually only have had a brief conversation and been given a cholesterol diet booklet and a prescription for a medication. I’m taking a cholesterol medication, but I’ve kept it to the lowest dose possible while studying the rest of the story. In fact, my cholesterol is perfectly under control right now.

So, let’s start with smoking. Smoking causes LDL cholesterol (bad cholesterol, or L for lousy) to stick to the walls of your arteries and clog them. It also lowers HDL (H for healthy) cholesterol, which is what you need to move cholesterol off the walls of your arteries.

According to WebMD, smoking increases clotting, damages the lungs, weakens the bones, increases inflammation, and weakens the immune system. Just 20 minutes after quitting, your blood pressure and heart rate drop, and within 2 to 3 weeks your blood flow begins to improve. If your cholesterol is high, a healthier cardiovascular system can definitely prolong your life.

So what’s the deal with Cheerios? Well, the FDA has warned that Cheerios claims that eating them can lower your cholesterol in 4 to 6 weeks, and that eating them can prevent or treat heart disease. Eating oatmeal can help prevent LDL from sticking, but there are other types of cholesterol and diseases involved in your heart health.

The truth about the soluble fiber found in Cheerios is that it forms a gel-like consistency in the digestive tract. Eating 10 to 25 or more grams of soluble fiber each day can lower LDL, but HDL and triglycerides are only minimally affected by soluble fiber intake. When this gel-like consistency is in your digestive tract, it is likely to remove some of the LDL before it enters your bloodstream. Some people add products like Bene fiber or Metamucil to their daily routine for a healthy digestive system.

Foods that contain soluble fiber are: oats, peas, beans, apples, citrus fruits, carrots, barley, and psyllium. So, to answer the question about Cheerios, yes, eating Cheerios or oatmeal for breakfast every day is a good start, but it’s really a small part of the story.

Without getting into the technicalities, remember that this article is for complete idiots, so I’m not qualified to talk about the intimate details, but according to, only about 20% of cholesterol is derived from your diet. The other 80% is created by the liver, so when you take cholesterol medication, the design is to limit the amount of cholesterol your body makes. One thing you should know is that cholesterol is necessary for digestion, the production of vitamin D, and the production of certain hormones, so it’s not necessarily a dirty word. If you have a 100% heart-healthy diet, you could still have sky-high lab reports because that’s what your ancestors had.

So far, reading this article, if you’ve quit smoking and started eating more soluble fiber, you’re off to a good start because LDL, or low-density lipoprotein, is the “bad” cholesterol, and these two changes will help bring this number down.

The next lipid or fat found in the blood is triglycerides. According to the Mayo Clinic, excess calories consumed are converted to triglycerides and stored in fat cells only to be released as energy when needed. If you eat more fat than you burn, especially carbs, (BOOM!) more body fat, higher triglycerides. This is where ANY amount of exercise goes a long way, as it not only burns the load of excess fat, but also moves the triglycerides lurking in your system.

Another component to understand here is Omega 3 fatty acids. TV commercials talk about this and guarantee good health, heart health, low cholesterol and more. First, let me say that there are millions of products available, some of them simply called fish oil, others that promise to be the end, all cholesterol-lowering. This is not the whole story. Omega 3 fatty acids are a type of friendly fat that the body does not produce on its own, but it is necessary to reduce clots and prevent platelets from sticking together. They help keep arteries smooth, lower triglycerides, reduce inflammation, MAY raise HDL (good stuff), and can lower blood pressure. If you choose to purchase an Omega 3 supplement, I recommend that you shop carefully and buy from a reputable source.

The first two Omegas are found in certain types of oily fish such as mackerel, wild salmon, herring, tuna, trout, anchovy, white fish, oily fish, halibut, sea bass, and krill oil. It is recommended to eat one type of this fish at least twice a week. Pregnant women should consult with their doctor about getting enough Omega 3, as mercury levels are a concern due to natural and industrial contamination in our waters. The third Omega is found in seeds and nuts such as ground flaxseeds, flaxseed oil, chia seeds, walnuts, soy foods, canola oil, and kelp or algae oil.

You’ll read about Omega 6 fatty acids as another cholesterol-lowering supplement, but because it’s sometimes dismissed as a cause for increased triglycerides, I’m calling it off my advice wheelhouse. There are also articles stating that there is not enough research on its benefits or risks, so I recommend visiting the website for more clear and educated research.

Saturated fats can be called the bad guys here. They are usually solid at room temperature and you already know who they are. Cheese, sour cream, ghee, butter, chocolate, ice cream, and more delights than I can name here. You should not consume more than 20 g (women) 30 g (men) of saturated fat per day. They can increase LDL (bad) and require HDL (good) to carry to the liver for removal. These fats are the ones to take easy, but they tend to be the most fun to eat in large quantities. I love sitting on a half gallon of ice cream, I mean who doesn’t? Pizza comes on a greasy crust stuffed with cheese these days. No matter what your health goals are, saturated fat is not your friend.

Unsaturated fats are considered friendlier than saturated fats and I have been able to find some amazing substitutes for breakfast, like whole wheat avocado toast.

There are two types of unsaturated fat;

Monosaturated fats: maintain HDL and help lower LDL. It is found in fish, olive oil, avocados, Brazil nuts, and peanuts.

Polyunsaturated fats: found in Omega 3 and Omega 6: canola, corn, sunflower, peanut butter, avocado oil, eggs. Some of the Omega 6 ingredients are commonly GMOs (Genetically Modified Organisms). I’m not sure enough to endorse one way or the other, but if the product isn’t labeled GMO-free, it’s not necessarily GMO-free.

Trans Fats – These are the last fats on my list here. Do not do it! It doesn’t take a nutritionist to know when you bite into these foods that you’re dying a little bit by the time you start chewing. The main source of trans fats are partially hydrogenated oils. Hydrogenated oils were rated unsafe for human consumption by the FDA in 2013. They are found in cakes, doughnuts, pie crusts, biscuits, frozen pizza, crackers, margarines, French fries, and many other foods found in restaurants and in the freezer aisle.

You now know the names of the fats found in your blood and possibly how to change your lab numbers. Look at your recent lab tests and ask your doctor what he recommends. Here is my advice in a nutshell;

Read the labels! Eat the things you like lighter and in smaller portions. Be careful with the bad things. Limit your salt. According to the Cleveland Clinic, sodium can cause fluid to build up around the heart and lungs, which increases blood pressure and makes the heart work harder. You should consume less than 2,000 mg per day of sodium.

Watch your calories. If you are a semi-active adult, try to stay under 2,000 calories per day, being 20-30% from fat. Look out for hidden sugar, sometimes called high fructose corn syrup, which is high in carbohydrates and raises triglycerides and LDL cholesterol.

Exercise, even if it’s just for 10 minutes. Any amount of exercise will improve the health of your heart. This will lower blood pressure, lower cholesterol, lower blood sugar, shed excess weight, and encourage arteries to dilate more easily. I cannot stress this enough. ANY exercise, even walking around the house instead of sitting is a good thing. Better yet, start a personal program. Take a double walk at the local mall or the local high school track, buy a treadmill, throw your dog a ball, or do anything but the couch.

Do you want to read more? Visit the American Heart Association website, They include lots of information on heart health, recipes, events, and more.

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