Sunday, November 25, 2012

Heart Healthy Habits

Yesterday, I made spicy prawns for dinner. I have been to trying to not eat prawns very often because they are high in dietary cholesterol. I wondered to myself, just much cholesterol is there in prawns? How much dietary cholesterol is an appropriate level on a daily basis? So I did a little research.

I read that cholesterol is necessary in the body, and that most of the cholesterol in the blood is manufactured by the liver. Only fifteen percent of it comes from dietary cholesterol and triglycerides in the diet. However, that dietary source is the portion that people can change by changing their lifestyle and eating habits. When describing people as having "high cholesterol levels," it is the Low Density Lipoprotein (LDL) blood level of cholesterol that is of concern. LDL cholesterol is the guilty party that sticks to the artery walls, making them narrow and stiff and leading to blockages and clots that result in heart attacks and strokes. The other kind of cholesterol in the blood, High Density Lipoprotein (HDL) is the "good" cholesterol, because it gathers up excess LDL in the blood and takes it back to the liver to be decomposed.

My interest in cholesterol has come about because I was recently told by my doctor that I have a borderline high LDL cholesterol level and that I should begin to eat a low cholesterol, low fat, heart-healthy diet. According to the Mayo Clinic Website, 3.4 to 4.1 mmol/L is borderline high, with 2.6 to 3.3 being near ideal (except for people with high risk of heart disease, in which case it should be lower). Fortunately for me, all of my other cardiovascular health indicators are good, including my HDL cholesterol level. The exception is that I am a little heavier and wider around the middle than I should be -- no surprise there. In middle age, I have turned into one of those apple shaped people.

I also read that in a healthy diet, one should eat no more than 300 mg of dietary cholesterol per day, and even less if there is existing heart disease. To put this into context, there is 183 mg of cholesterol in one large egg. Apparently (according to the nutrition information on the package), the prawns I ate yesterday had 130 mg of cholesterol per 100 grams, or about 7 prawns. I ate 6 prawns, or about 120 mg of cholesterol. Counting up all of the other high cholesterol things I ate yesterday (part of an egg, butter), I still slipped in under the 300 mg wire. Phew!

However, I do feel a bit miffed about being told that I should "start" eating a heart-healthy diet. I have been very interested in health and nutrition for my entire adult life and have always strived to cook and eat healthily. I have also always included exercise in my life. So I have done a bit of an analysis to see where my eating and health habits might need some changes, such as being careful not to eat too many of those sneaky high cholesterol prawns. But first I am going to start by making a list of the heart-healthy habits that I already have.

I almost always cook from scratch.
I rarely use packaged or prepared foods.
I eat 5 or more servings of fruit and vegetables each day.
I eat breakfast.
I mostly use heart-healthy oils (olive oil, canola oil, peanut oil) in my cooking.
I use the least amount of oil necessary, and often choose baking, broiling, braising, and boiling over frying.
I rarely eat anything deep-fried.
I use very scanty amounts of spreadable fats (butter, margarine, mayonnaise) on breads and sandwiches, and choose low fat versions of mayo, cream cheese, etc.
I substitute heart healthy oils for hard fats when I make quick breads (e.g., pancakes)
I seldom eat fast foods, and when I do, I skip the fries and pop, and go easy on the sauces.
I eat fish twice a week.
I eat lean rather than fatty meats, and not more than the recommended amount each day.
I usually buy whole grain breads and cereals.
I chew my food slowly and savour it.
I rarely overeat at a meal.
I don't skip meals.
When we go out to eat, I choose healthy options from the menu.
In a restaurant, I only eat as much as I need, and pack up the rest to take home.
I drink alcohol moderately -- not more than 1 drink per day or 7 drinks per week on average.
I rarely drink soft drinks (pop).
I include nuts and seeds in my diet daily.
I include lots of colorful fruits and vegetables on the menu.
I limit the quantity of bread, rice, potatoes, and pasta that I eat.
I mostly use herbs, lemon, vinegar, and spicy sauces to flavor dishes, rather than creamy or cheesy sauces and dressings.
I drink low fat milk.
I seldom eat cream, ice cream, or whipped cream.
I rarely eat more than two eggs per week.
I do not smoke.
I get at least 150 minutes of exercise a week, and usually exercise five times a week.

Sounds pretty healthy, doesn't it? And yet, I am a little heavier than I should be and since reaching middle age, my weight and waistline measurements keep creeping upward. Now my cholesterol level is borderline high. It is time to inspect my not so heart-healthy habits. If I can get the dietary fat and cholesterol levels down and also lose a bit of weight, it will be good for my heart and also for my arthritic knees.

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