Bad blood

by Karen Bowen

On the road, it can be challenging to meet the guidelines for a healthy diet and to fit enough exercise into your schedule. Unfortunately, this can lead to high cholesterol levels, which have been linked to a variety of serious health concerns. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 22% of longhaul truck drivers are either taking medicine for, or have been told they have, high cholesterol, making them prone to chest pain, heart attack or stroke.

Some cholesterol is necessary to maintain a healthy body. This waxy substance, produced by the liver and also made by most cells, attaches to blood proteins, lipoproteins, and travels throughout your body to build the structure of cell membranes, forms hormones like estrogen, testosterone and adrenal hormones, maintains an efficient metabolism producing Vitamin D, and produces bile acids to help digest fat and absorb nutrients.

Although cholesterol has a bad name, not all cholesterol is bad. Cholesterol is divided into two categories. High-density lipoprotein (HDL) is considered a good cholesterol because it picks up excess cholesterol and transports it back to your liver to be broken down and excreted.

However, low-density lipoprotein (LDL), bad cholesterol, carries smaller cholesterol particles throughout your body, which deposit and build up on the walls of your arteries, making them hard and narrow, reducing blood flow efficiency.

The main factors that impact your cholesterol levels include age, genetics and life choices. Although you cannot control your age or genetic makeup, you can adjust your life choices with healthier actions. Improve your diet by limiting foods containing saturated fats in animal products, and trans-fats in commercially-baked cookies, biscuits and microwave popcorn, and also limiting foods high in cholesterol like high-fat dairy products and red meats.

Follow a low-salt diet that emphasizes fruits, vegetables and whole grains. Choose low or reduced-fat milk, yogurt and other dairy products or have ‘added calcium’
soy drinks.

Indulge in cheese and ice cream with only a couple servings a week. Select lean meat (meat trimmed of fat or labeled as heart smart). Limit fatty meats, including sausages, salami and other cold cuts. When packing sandwiches, choose leaner sandwich meats like turkey breast or cooked lean chicken.

Include fish (fresh or canned) at least twice a week. Snack on foods containing healthy fats, such as nuts, legumes and seeds.

Help excrete LDL cholesterol by including foods in your diet that are rich in soluble fiber. Kidney beans, Brussels sprouts, apples and pears are good choices, and oat bran is particularly effective.

Soluble fiber can reduce the absorption of cholesterol into your bloodstream. Five to 10 grams or more of soluble fiber a day decreases your LDL cholesterol.

One serving of a breakfast cereal with oatmeal or oat bran provides three to four grams of fiber. If you add fruit, such as a banana or berries, you’ll get even more fiber and excrete more cholesterol. Support regular bowel activity by staying hydrated and not rushing bathroom breaks at truck stops and drops.

Become more physically fit. Having a body mass index (BMI) of 30 or greater puts you at risk for high cholesterol, but exercise helps boost your body’s HDL, or “good,” cholesterol while increasing the size of the particles that make up your LDL, or “bad,” cholesterol, making it less harmful. Aim for 30 minutes of exercise, five days a week.

Stop smoking. Cigarette smoking damages the walls of your blood vessels, making them more prone to accumulate fatty deposits. Smoking might also lower your level of HDL, or “good,” cholesterol.

Maintain healthy blood sugar levels. High blood sugar damages the lining of your arteries and also contributes to higher levels of a more dangerous cholesterol called very-low-density lipoprotein (VLDL) and lower HDL cholesterol.

Since high cholesterol has no symptoms, levels can only be determined through blood work. Lowering your level is in your hands (and your blood).

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