One way to practice healthy aging is to understand how our meals affect our health.
Eating a variety of healthy foods and avoiding foods that aren’t as healthy for us will help us all, including our senior loved ones, age more successfully.
This month, as we celebrate Healthy Aging Month, we mark Cholesterol Education Month.
Because many people are not aware of their cholesterol levels, there are no symptoms that tell us “hey, your cholesterol is too high,” it is a good time to remind everyone to learn a little bit more about our heart health as we age and what we can do to improve our health through our diets.
More than 71 million of us have high blood cholesterol, which puts us at great risk for heart disease, heart attack and stroke. We can lower our risk by doing what is necessary to lower our blood cholesterol levels.
Only 1/3 of those with high blood cholesterol actually have it under control.
It is recommended that adults get their blood cholesterol checked every 5 years. Has your senior had their levels checked lately? Do you know their numbers or your own?
We should have a blood cholesterol level of 200 mg/dL or less. Good cholesterol or HDL should be 60 mg/dL or better (the higher number, the more protective for our heart). Bad cholesterol or LDL should be 100 mg/dL or lower. High LDL contributes to the risk of heart disease and stroke while high HDL protects the heart.
Fat and Cholesterol Controversy
There have been many conflicting reports regarding whether or not we should be paying any attention to cholesterol or even if we should try to avoid it in our diets.
Certainly the experts agree we all need to choose healthier fats in our diets to avoid buildup in our arteries of the plaque that leads to heart disease.
The more we learn about our brain health, cognition and dementia, the more we discover that what is good for the heart is good for the brain. Therefore, cutting down on our overall fat intake, choosing unsaturated fats, avoiding Trans fat and substituting unsaturated fats for the saturated fats in our senior’s diet now will help both the heart and the brain.
Fats – the Good, the Better and the Ones to Avoid
We hear a lot about fats in the media, including which are good or bad. Our overall intake of fat is important and we should all be trying to lower that amount at the same time substituting unsaturated fats for saturated ones.
Fat comes along with higher calories so if you are trying to lose weight, lowering your fat intake will help.
Cholesterol isn’t itself a fat but a fat-like substance. Excess cholesterol in your blood increases your risk of heart disease. Your body makes its own cholesterol so dietary sources of cholesterol are not essential.
The American Heart Association recommends no more than 5-6% of our total calories come from saturated fat and Dietary Guidelines recommend less than 10% of total calories from saturated fat.
Trans fats are definitely on the “avoid” list! These are fats derived from the hydrogenation process when making a liquid fat into a solid fat. It has been found in margarine, baked goods and snack foods. Because it raises our cholesterol and readily forms plaque in our arteries, there has been concern about the use of this food ingredient and it has been removed from many products already after the Food and Drug Administration removed trans fat from the Generally Recognized as Safe list earlier this year. Manufacturers have three years to remove it from the food supply. Continue to read the nutrition facts label looking for 0 trans fat and no hydrogenated oils in the ingredients.
Saturated fats are those that come from animal sources and are usually solid at room temperature, such as butter, animal fat, poultry skin, full fat cheese, fat in dairy products, tropical oils, baked goods, fried foods and lard. They raise your total blood cholesterol and LDL.
Unsaturated fats are considered to be healthy fats and are usually liquid at room temperature. We do need to include fat in our diet for normal function and to provide essential nutrients, such as fat soluble vitamins and essential fatty acids. The Dietary Guidelines recommendations are 20-35% of total calories come from all fats.
Monounsaturated – found in a variety of foods, including canola, olive, peanut and safflower oils and avocado, nuts, seeds and olives.
Polyunsaturated – found in primarily plant based foods nuts, seeds, oils such as soybean, corn, and cottonseed; omega 3 fatty acids are a type of polyunsaturated fat that is beneficial to heart health found in fatty fish, nuts and seeds such as walnuts, almonds, flaxseed and sunflower.
Tips for Lowering Blood Cholesterol
There are things that your senior can do to impact their cholesterol level for healthy aging and some that they can’t affect such as age and heredity. Family caregivers can encourage and facilitate these changes in their senior loved ones for improved heart health and also brain health.
Reducing the overall amount of fat in your senior’s diet focusing on eliminating trans fat, reducing saturated fat and replacing it with unsaturated fat in addition to lowering high cholesterol food choices will help reduce all blood lipid levels to prevent heart disease. Eating more plant based foods help to lower overall fats in the diet.
Maintaining weight in a normal range can help manage cholesterol levels and reduce the risk of heart disease. It will be easier for your senior to be more physically active when they are not overweight too.
- Physical activity
Being physically active will help your senior to not only manage their weight but also exercise their heart through cardiovascular fitness. Regular physical activity can help lower cholesterol levels. The goal for seniors is 150 minutes of activity per week but 30 minutes a day would be most beneficial.
- Medications if needed
If your senior’s doctor believes that a medication is necessary to help lower cholesterol, it is important to follow the instructions and be aware of potential side effects. Using medication along with other changes will help your senior use the lowest medication dosage possible.
Know the Numbers
In order for our senior loved ones to be healthy and manage their blood lipid levels, the first step is to know the numbers.
Getting screened and talking to your senior’s healthcare team about which interventions would be most beneficial to them is key to healthy aging.
Once your senior knows their blood cholesterol levels, they will be better prepared to make the necessary lifestyle changes that will improve their health and well-being.
They will need your help to become heart healthy, maybe you can do it together!