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Know Your Numbers

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There’s more to good health than your cholesterol level

As a nutritionist, I often hear the question “What can I do to improve my cholesterol?”

First, the quick answer: Improving cholesterol levels means raising HDL (good) cholesterol, lowering LDL (bad) cholesterol and lowering triglycerides. Natural ways to raise HDL levels include exercising, adding monounsaturated fats into your diet (think nuts, avocado, olive oil) and moderating your alcohol intake (not more than one drink daily for women; two for men). To reduce LDL levels, limit saturated and trans fats, and add more soluble fiber. To reduce triglycerides, limit refined carbohydrates and alcohol consumption, and add more omega-3 fatty acids.

Now, for a more detailed explanation: Cholesterol is only one part of the heart health equation. Unfortunately, it’s not uncommon for a heart attack to occur in a person with normal cholesterol levels.

It’s important to realize that while cholesterol levels play a significant role in heart disease, we must also consider age, family history, smoking status, blood pressure, and C-reactive protein (CRP) levels. CRP is a marker of inflammation in our bodies; high levels can signify a risk of cardiovascular disease even when cholesterol levels are normal.

The bottom line? Know your numbers. Be mindful not only of your cholesterol levels but also your blood pressure and CRP levels. And continue to be proactive in your nutrition and exercise regime to improve your waistline and your heart health as well.

Q:Dear Molly, I have been feeling so sluggish that I went to visit my doctor and had some blood work done. Everything was normal, except for the fact that I had gained 12 pounds in two months. My doctor said that it wasn’t hormonal, that I just need to lose some weight. I am too young for this! What can I do to shed these 12 pounds quickly and to stop gaining this weight?

Carla

Carla, Wow, it’s understandable that you’re a bit freaked out by this rapid weight gain. So let me assure you that it’s not likely that you gained 12 pounds of body fat in two months. That would mean you consumed 42,000 extra calories over the past sixty days, above and beyond your body’s usual calorie needs! The number on the scale can fluctuate frequently. Some of this weight gain may be body fat, but it’s likely that some may also be fluid retention.

You mention that you want to shed these pounds quickly. Be aware that this may not be a quick process. A top priority is to find out what’s causing the gain, and take the necessary steps to lose the extra weight. A reasonable rate of fat loss is one to two pounds a week. T he first thing that comes to mind is an underactive thyroid—this would help explain the weight gain and the sluggishness you describe. However, this is a very rapid weight increase, even for low-thyroid function. I would also research any medications you may be taking, to see if weight gain is one of the side effects.

Now, how to lose the excess weight? There’s no quick fix. You may consider keeping a food log to identify any bad habits you’ve unwittingly developed that have contributed to the weight gain. You can have your metabolic rate measured (at several local fitness centers) and that will tell you how many calories you burn at rest. Consider working with a registered dietitian to develop a nutrition program that works with your tastes and lifestyle. And if you’re not exercising regularly, get moving! Depending on your current level of fitness, aim for four to six days of activity, ranging from cardiovascular exercise to strength training, yoga, or Pilates.

Most important, don’t get discouraged. Continue to research what’s caused the weight gain in the first place, and put every effort you have into working to lose it. We’ll be pulling for you!