Your Top Cholesterol Questions—Answered

Get ready to say good-bye to cholesterol confusion:


Q: What are plant sterols and why do I need them?
A: Plant sterols are natural compounds that can help block the absorption of dietary cholesterol, helping to maintain the normal levels in the blood. They’re found in nuts and fruits, and also vegetable oils like olive, soybean and sunflower oils, as well as in certain Smart Balance® products, like Smart Balance® HeartRight® milk and buttery spread and Smart Balance® Light Mayonnaise Dressing.

A serving of Smart Balance® HeartRight® fat free milk supplies 400mg of plant sterols. Foods containing at least 400mg per serving of plant sterols eaten twice a day with meals for a daily total intake of at least 800mg, as part of a diet low in saturated fat and cholesterol, may reduce the risk of heart disease.

Q: What does “good cholesterol” mean anyway?
A: Good cholesterol refers to high-density lipoprotein (HDL), which actually helps maintain heart health. The higher your levels of HDL, the better; doctors recommend women over 50 shoot for at least 50 mg/dl; men should have at least 40 mg/dl. HDL over 60 mg/dl is considered ideal and protects against heart disease.

If your HDL level is low, you can raise your levels of good cholesterol by exercising, losing weight, not smoking and eating a healthy diet. Need some advice on that last front? Check out the Smart Balance™ Food Plan.

Bad cholesterol, on the other hand, refers to low-density lipoprotein (LDL). High levels contribute to the buildup of plaque in the blood vessels, raising the risk of heart-related issues.

Q: What’s so bad about trans fats?
A: Trans fat can raise the “bad” LDL cholesterol and lower the good HDL cholesterol in blood, which makes it one of the biggest threats to your heart. You’ll find it most often in certain margarines and fried foods, as well as commercially baked, processed and packaged foods, such as cookies and crackers. Trans fat is created through a manufacturing process that adds hydrogen to liquid vegetable oils, (anytime you see “partially hydrogenated oil” or “hydrogenated”on an ingredients list, the product contains trans fat). The American Heart Association recommends adults get less than 2 grams of trans fat a day. All Smart Balance® products naturally contain zero grams of trans fat per serving.

Q: I eat well, exercise and have a healthy weight. My cholesterol is still sky high. What am I doing wrong?
A: “Eating well is relative,” says Stephano Sdringola, M.D., associate professor of medicine (cardiology) at the University of Texas Medical School in Houston. Many people don’t know enough about what’s inside the foods they eat, and don’t really know if their diets are actually healthy, he says.

To get a handle on yours, keep a food log for a week or two (be honest!), and then ask your doctor or a dietitian to review it with you. If you are truly eating healthfully, and the cholesterol is still elevated after six weeks, you may have a genetic predisposition that keeps your cholesterol high. (Another clue: Cholesterol problems run in your family.) Should that be the case, your doctor may prescribe medication along with healthy lifestyle changes. Regardless of whether medication is prescribed, a healthy diet and exercise regime are essential to maintaining good heart health, and both must be done independently of any drug treatment, Dr. Sdringola stresses. That’s because, unlike exercise and diet, the medication doesn’t affect the surge of fat that circulates in your blood hours after you eat.

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