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How to Lower Cholesterol: Step 3

Posted by Lisa Nelson, RD, LN on March 30, 2009

In the last post I gave you the first step towards lowering cholesterol. Here is the third. Remember, by implementing these basic steps, you’re establishing a solid foundation that will support heart health and increase the effectiveness of medications and supplements.

Step 3: Lose weight and/or maintain a healthy weight.

Weight has a significant impact on your heart health and cholesterol levels. Weight loss alone may lower triglycerides, LDL cholesterol, and total cholesterol levels. Losing as little as 10% body weight could drop your cholesterol back to the heart healthy range.

All the best,
Lisa Nelson RD


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Lower Cholesterol – Understand Fatty Acids

Posted by Lisa Nelson, RD, LN on March 30, 2009

Unless you have been living under a rock, you have probably heard the term fatty acids.  But, do you understand what they are and how the right ratio will improve your heart health?  I intend to clear up the confusion.
Types of Fatty Acids
There are numerous types of fatty acids.  I am focusing on omega 3 and omega 6.
Unsaturated Fats
Omega 3 and omega 6 fatty acids are both unsaturated fats.  To improve cholesterol levels, you want to replace the saturated fats (i.e. lard, shortening, ice cream, cheese) in your diet with unsaturated fats. 
What does "omega" mean? 
Most of you are familiar with the saying "alpha to omega", in other words, beginning to end.  The "omega" indicates which carbon has the first double bond on the carbon chain when you start counting from the omega end.  For omega 3, the first double bond is on the third carbon from the omega end of the carbon chain.  I know you were wanting to review a little biochemistry today! 
Essential Fatty Acids
Omega 3 and omega 6 fatty acids are also essential fatty acids. 
Essential fatty acids are necessary for cardiovascular health, but our body cannot synthesize them.  You can only obtain essential fatty acids through the foods you eat. 
Omega 3 (Linolenic Acid)

To keep things simple, I am going to use the acronyms ALA, EPA, and DHA.  These are all types of omega 3 fatty acids.  If we consume a food containing the omega 3 fatty acid ALA, our body will convert it to EPA and DHA.  Studies have shown a link between EPA, DHA, and heart disease.  More studies are needed to understand ALA’s relationship.

Oils – Canola oil, Soybean oil, Flaxseed oil (good source of ALA)
Seeds and nuts – flaxseeds, walnuts, pumpkin seeds, Brazil nuts, sesame seeds
Vegetables – avocados, some dark leafy green vegetables (kale, spinach, mustard greens, collards)
Fish (good source of EPA and DHA) – salmon, mackerel, sardines, anchovies, albacore tuna, lake trout, herring
Omega 6 (Linoleic Acid)

I am going to throw in more acronym’s – GLA and AA – omega 6 fatty acids.  Linoleic acid is converted to GLA and on into AA by the body.  Researchers are finding indications of a link between GLA and EPA, in relation to heart health and reduced blood pressure.  High intake of sugars, alcohol, trans fats, and various other factors can inhibit the conversion from linoleic acid to GLA. 
Oils – Sunflower oil, corn oil, safflower oil, soybean oil, cottonseed oil, flaxseed oil
Seeds and nuts – flaxseeds, pumpkin seeds, pistachio nuts, sunflower seeds, pine nuts
Meat – chicken, beef
For optimum heart health, the ratio between omega 6 fatty acids and omega 3 should be between 1:1 and 4:1.  A practical example of what a 1:1 ratio means, for every 3 ounces of beef you eat, you would need to eat 3 ounces of tuna (I do not mean in the same meal!).  The ratio for the typical American diet is 11:1 to 30:1.  This poor ratio is linked with heart disease, among several other health issues. 
Bottom Line:
For heart health, increase your intake of foods containing omega-3 fatty acids, while cutting back on omega-6 fatty acid sources.  For example, switch from corn oil to canola oil, increase the number of meals you eat that contain fish each week, and grab walnuts instead of pistachios.
Now, if you are interested in being guided step-by-step as you gain control of your heart health and cholesterol levels, check out the available programs at Lisa Nelson RD – Lower Cholesterol Programs

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How to Lower Cholesterol: Step 2

Posted by Lisa Nelson, RD, LN on March 28, 2009

In the last post I gave you the first step towards lowering cholesterol. Here is the second. Remember, by implementing these basic steps, you’re establishing a solid foundation that will support heart health and increase the effectiveness of medications and supplements.

Step 2: Adopt a heart healthy lifestyle.

This means eating a diet that support heart health and including physical activity as part of your daily routine.

Here are some basic guidelines for a heart healthy diet to lower cholesterol:

  • Saturated fat intake should be limited to less than 7% of your total daily calories.
  • Daily trans fat intake should be less than 1% of your total calorie intake.
  • Cholesterol should be limited to less than 300 mg/day.
  • Eat 25-35 grams of dietary fiber. The needs to include an adequate intake of soluble fiber, which will promote lower LDL levels.
  • Include sources rich in omega 3 fatty acids to your diet. Some benefits of omega 3 fatty acids include lower triglycerides, increased HDL cholesterol, and slower build-up of arterial plaque.

Here are basic guidelines for physical activity to lower cholesterol.

  • Include at least 150 minutes of physical activity each week.

This is the latest recommendation of The Health and Human Services Department. In order to see substantial health benefits, include at least 150 minutes, 2 ½ hours, of moderate-intensity activity each week. If times a factor, you can see the same benefits by bumping up the intensity and being vigorously active 75 minutes (1 hr. 15 min.) each week.

By include regular physical activity you will raise HDL cholesterol and lower triglycerides.

Stay tuned for step 3.

All the best,
Lisa Nelson RD

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How to Lower Cholesterol: Step 1

Posted by Lisa Nelson, RD, LN on March 26, 2009

It’s often easier to turn to supplements or medications to lower cholesterol. However, the effectiveness of these treatments will not be as great if you do not have a solid foundation in place that supports heart health. Over the next few posts I’ll give you three basic steps you can implement now to promote lower cholesterol levels and reduce heart disease.

Step 1: Know and understand your cholesterol lab results.

A simple blood test will check your cholesterol levels. This test is also known as a lipid profile. You will learn your total cholesterol, LDL cholesterol, HDL cholesterol, and triglyceride levels. By knowing the “breakdown” of your lipid panel you (or your MD/dietitian) will be able to determine the best steps to take for results.

The American Heart Association Recommends that everyone over the age of 20 know their cholesterol levels.

Stay tuned for step 2.

All the best,
Lisa Nelson RD

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Heart Health – Do you know the difference between and “organic” and “natural” food?

Posted by Lisa Nelson, RD, LN on March 24, 2009

The hottest label claims right now are “organic” and “natural”. Do you know the difference?


Organic foods were produced under environmentally friendly conditions with no antibiotics, growth hormones, fertilizers with synthetic ingredients or sewage sledge, pesticides, bioengineering, or ionized radiation.

The label claim “100% Organic” is the highest standard a food can receive and is allowed on single ingredient foods (fruits, vegetables, meat, dairy, and eggs that exclude water and salt).

The label claim “Made with Organic Ingredients” can be used on multiple ingredient foods if the food contains between 70% and 94.9% organic ingredients.


A food using the “natural” label claim cannot contain any artificial ingredients, added coloring, and must be minimally processed.

“Organic” and “natural” are not interchangeable!

All the best,
Lisa Nelson RD
Be Heart Healthy and Lose Weight

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Physical Activity – How much do you really need?

Posted by Lisa Nelson, RD, LN on March 24, 2009

As I previously mentioned, The Health and Human Services Department sets physical activity guidelines after reviewing a good decades worth of research related to physical activity and health.

This report encompasses everyone from the age of 6 and up. Let’s go into a little more detail on the adult guidelines.

Adult Physical Activity Guidelines

  1. All adults should avoid inactivity.
    Any type of activity is better than nothing. Adults who include activity as part of their everyday life gain some form of health benefit.
  2. To see substantial health benefits, include at least 150 minutes (2 ½ hours) per week of moderate-intensity activity. If times a factor, you can see the same benefits by bumping up the intensity and being vigorously active 75 minutes (1 hr. 15 min.) each week.Yes, it is still okay to break your activity into chunks.For example, if your schedule doesn’t allow 30 minutes at the gym, you can include a 10 minute brisk walk during lunch break to count towards the goal of 150 minutes for the week. However, workout segments less than 10 minutes in length are not as beneficial.

    Also, the most benefit is seen by spreading your activity throughout the week. If you’re tempted to hit the gym for a power workout session on a Saturday for 2 ½ hours, that is not as beneficial as 30 minutes of activity 5 days out of the week. But, remember, any form/amount of activity is better than nothing!

  3. If you want to take things to the next levels, more extensive health benefits are seen when activity is increased to 300 minutes (5 hours) per week of moderate intensity activity or 150 minutes of vigorous intensity aerobic activity.
  4. Don’t forget strength training! You want to include all major muscle groups on two or more days each week. Especially beneficial as we age and see a decline in metabolism (and corresponding weight gain) if muscle mass is not maintained.

Now, don’t let yourself be overwhelmed and give up without even attempting to meet these guidelines. Activity does not have to be hard or expensive. You can walk your dog, go dancing, climb the stairs at work, mow the lawn, and go to the gym. There are many, many options available to get 2 ½ hours of physical activity every week.

All the best,

Lisa Nelson RD

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Heart Health – The Dangers of Soda

Posted by Lisa Nelson, RD, LN on March 20, 2009

My weakness is caffeine-free Diet Coke. For me, soda and popcorn go hand-in-hand. Well, even though I am drinking diet I have to remember I am not sitting pretty. Soda affects tooth decay, tooth discoloration, and for those that do not choose diet, weight gain.

Tooth Decay
Any drink that is carbonated has a low pH level. What you ask? Let me explain. The process of carbonation adds carbon dioxide and results in the formation of carbonic acid. This acid lowers the pH of a beverage. A pH of 1 is acidic and 7 is neutral. Battery acid has a pH of 1; water has a pH of 7. The pH of Pepsi is 2.49, Coke is 2.63, and Mountain Dew is 3.22. The acid in soda can damage tooth enamel in just 20 minutes. Think about how you usually drink your soda. Do you drink a 12 oz. can in 5-10 minutes or are you sipping on it over a period of an hour or so? You can help combat the effects of carbonic acid by drinking your soda in less than 20 minutes and rinsing your mouth with water after the fact. Saliva also helps neutralize the acid. Don’t forget to protect your children’s teeth! Children are even more susceptible to tooth erosion because their tooth enamel is not fully developed. 
Tooth discoloration
Habitual soda drinkers are adding layers of sugar, which turn to layers of plaque on their teeth. This plaque then absorbs stains from food products. This is how dark colored sodas lead to tooth discoloration. Bye, bye pearly whites!
Weight Gain
A 12 oz. can of regular soda contains about 150 calories. If you drink one can everyday you consume 4200 soda calories each month and 50,400 calories each year. This is equal to an extra 14 ½ pounds of body weight. Most people do not limit themselves to just 12 oz. a day. . . .one 20 oz bottle of regular soda daily would be an additional 26 pounds each year.
So, as you kick back and enjoy that acidic, staining, waist expanding can of soda, maybe you should think about splurging on a fancy bottle so you can switch it up and enjoy some refreshing water once in awhile instead!
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5 Heart Healthy Foods to Add to Your Diet Today

Posted by Lisa Nelson, RD, LN on March 17, 2009

Here are five foods to include in your diet to promote heart health.

1. Banana – Good source of potassium to promote a lower blood pressure.
2. Fish – Contains omega 3’s to prevent arterial plaque rupture.
3. Olive oil – Contains heart healthy monounsaturated fat to reduce the risk or coronary heart disease.
4. Garlic – Contains allicin to raise HDL, lower LDL, lower homocysteine, and lower blood pressure.
5. Walnuts – Rich is essential fatty acids, healthy protein, fiber, and phytosterols (compounds to decrease absorption of dietary cholesterol).

All the best,

Lisa Nelson RD
Be Heart Healthy and Lose Weight

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Heart Health and Corn

Posted by Lisa Nelson, RD, LN on March 16, 2009

I recently listened to an interesting conversation related to corn. It was more a debate on corns’ status as a vegetable, lack of nutritional value, and link to health problems (specifically diabetes and obesity). It was proposed that corn should be banned from production. The debate went on to suggest a comparison between corn and tobacco production and their similar impact on our society. Now, I am hoping some of this was argument just for arguments sake. What did this little yellow kernel ever do? I am stepping up in its’ defense.

If you want to delve into botany, you could argue that corn is a grain; but I am not going to go into that explanation. In our society, corn is eaten like a vegetable. Granted it is a starchy vegetable, but a vegetable nonetheless. As far as nutritional value, ½ cup of frozen corn contributes some Vitamin A and potassium, 2 g of dietary fiber, 2.5 g of protein, only 1.5 g of sugar and less than 0.5 g of fat. The nutritional value is not outstanding, but not terrible either. 
Resistant Starch

Corn is a whole grain and includes resistant starch. Resistant starches are popping up as a hot topic related to weight loss. A resistant starch is a type of fiber that resists digestion and passes through the small intestine to the large intestine mostly intact. In the large intestine it ferments and produces a fatty acid (bytyrate) that reduces toxins and helps protect against digestive diseases. Resistant starches boost immunity, improve blood sugar control, and increase satiety (a plus for individuals trying to lose weight).
Cornmeal, Corn starch, Popcorn, High Fructose Corn Syrup

Corn is used in the production of many products. I am going to briefly cover just a couple – cornmeal, cornstarch, popcorn, and high fructose corn syrup – none of which are vegetables. 
Cornmeal versus cornstarch is comparable to whole wheat flour versus white flour. Cornmeal includes the whole corn grain (bran, germ, and endosperm) while cornstarch is refined (bran and germ removed). Whole grain equals a good source of dietary fiber.
Popcorn is an excellent snack that is low calorie. Of course, you need to watch the added butter and salt. One cup of light popcorn equals ~15 calories and provides 5 g of dietary fiber!
High fructose corn syrup is a major ingredient in soda and numerous foods with a low nutritional value. To produce high fructose corn syrup, whole corn is refined to corn starch. This corn starch is then processed with enzymes to yield a glucose and fructose mixture, eventually resulting in the production of high fructose corn syrup. To say that high fructose corn syrup is corn is like saying Sunny Delight is orange juice.
Glycemic Index

The glycemic index is an oft times used rationale supporting the argument that corn is bad, based on how quickly corn raises blood sugar levels. It has been well-known for years that the glycemic index is not a reliable tool. If you were to base eating on the glycemic index, that would mean you sit down for your evening meal and dine on a cup of corn only. How likely is that? A typical meal includes a variety of foods, such as some meat and bread, along with corn. The protein, fiber, and other components of these various foods, negate the glycemic index value established for corn alone.
Portion Control

I sincerely doubt someone is overweight because they couldn’t put down the corn. Corn does provide ~80 calories per half cup, so as with everything else, you need to practice portion control and watch what you add. A tablespoon of butter added to a half cup of corn increases the calorie count to ~180 calories.
Bottom Line:
If you like corn, eat it. You do receive a nutritious vegetable, but watch the amount. Definitely NOT the root of all evil!
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Heart Disease and Fibromyalgia – Is there a link?

Posted by Lisa Nelson, RD, LN on March 15, 2009

Here’s another question I asked Dr. Cynthia Shelby-Lane and her answer.

Lisa Nelson RD: Do you feel there is a link between heart disease and fibromyalgia?

Dr. Shelby-Lane: Fibromyalgia symptoms were akin to the symptoms of several “functional” disorders (i.e., medical conditions that affect bodily function via causes that are poorly understood) including recurrent non-heart-related chest pain, heartburn, heart palpitations and irritable bowel syndrome. However, a number of studies since have detected evidence of abnormalities in the internal organs of many fibromyalgia patients, including heart valve problems, malfunction of the muscles that move food to the stomach, and weakened lung function. These studies suggest that the abnormalities likely are symptoms of a larger disease, not illnesses by themselves.

Because of weakened respiratory muscles an individual finds it hard to breathe and the supply of oxygen to heart is decreased resulting in the above symptoms. Similar is the case with neck pain, due to weakened muscles.

Fibromyalgia (FM) is a recently recognized disorder rheumatologists and practitioners see quite often, especially in women 20 to 50 years old. It is characterized by widespread, chronic musculoskeletal pain, tenderness, fatigue and stiffness affecting muscles, tendons, ligaments and connective tissues with loss of sleep, depression, and shortness of breath. It is a poorly understood condition and there appears to be no universal cause and no single treatment that is effective for every person. Diagnosis of fibromyalgia is based on the tenderness of specific anatomical sites (at least 11 of 18 points) and pain in all four quadrants of the body that has lasted for 3-6 months or longer. It mostly affects the neck, shoulders, lower back, chest and/or thighs. Fibromyalgia patients meet many of the diagnostic criteria for chronic fatigue syndrome. Three to six million people are affected by fibromyalgia.

Possible Causes or Contributing Factors of Fatigue & Fibromyalgia

The cause of fibromyalgia is not known. Patients experience pain in response to stimuli that are normally not perceived as painful. Researchers have found elevated levels of a nerve chemical signal, called substance P, and nerve growth factor in the spinal fluid of fibromyalgia patients. The brain nerve chemical serotonin is also relatively low in patients with fibromyalgia. Studies of pain in fibromyalgia have suggested that the central nervous system (brain) may be somehow supersensitive. Scientists note that there seems to be a diffuse disturbance of pain perception in patients with fibromyalgia.

Also, patients with fibromyalgia have impaired non-Rapid-Eye-Movement, or non-REM, sleep phase (which likely explains the common feature of waking up fatigued and unrefreshed in these patients). The onset of fibromyalgia has been associated with psychological distress, trauma, and infection.

Fibromyalgia can occur in the presence of other conditions such as rheumatoid arthritis, osteoarthritis and hypothyroidism.

Nutritional therapies that help with fibromyalgia are D-ribose, L carnitine, magnesium, coenzyme Q 10, glutamine, fixated nitrogen, SAMe (optimal dosages vary for all supplements) and detoxification, but detection and correction of the underlying problem is the first course of action. This should also include hormone evaluation for adrenal and thyroid problems.

All the best,
Lisa Nelson RD
Be Heart Healthy and Lose Weight

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