What Your Cholesterol Numbers Mean

February 9, 2019

Today we want to clear up some of those misconceptions and help you understand the real meaning of cholesterol numbers. We’re explore the myths of what to eat for a healthy cholesterol and share what foods actually help lower your numbers, not to mention boost your energy, help you lose weight and much more.

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CAROLYN: Welcome to Dishing Up Nutrition brought to you by Nutritional Weight & Wellness. Has this thought ever crossed your mind? What do my cholesterol numbers really mean? I think many people have been told if their cholesterol number is above 200, they were doomed and they weren't going to have a heart attack. So today we want to clear up some of those misconceptions and help you understand the real meaning of your cholesterol numbers. I'm Carolyn Hudson and I'm a registered and licensed dietitian. I graduated from my nutrition program in Canada over 30 years ago. So I guess you could call me a very seasoned dietitian. Actually, I prefer people think of me as having a lot of life experience and a genuine understanding that changing your eating habits really doesn't come easy to the majority of people. Throughout the years, I've seen many diets recommended for weight loss and for heart health. And those are no longer considered safe today. So one of those diets that is now considered unsafe for most people is that low fat and high carb diet. Joining me today as our cohost this morning is JoAnn Ridout who is also a registered and licensed dietitian and also graduated from her nutrition program many years ago. How many years ago has it been for you?

JOANN: Yes, you're right. Many years ago, more than 30, just like you. I also have a lot of experience helping people with their nutrition over the years. And Carolyn, you mentioned that in the past 25 to 30 years, we've seen so many different diet recommendations for both weight loss and heart health. And for many of you, I'm sure you were told to eat low fat and high carb foods to lower your cholesterol numbers. Unfortunately, we have found that really didn't work. Even as a dietitian for many years, I was also told that low fat and high carb eating would lower my cholesterol. I tried to implement that, but in reality my numbers climbed on that type of eating plan. So if you're confused, we totally understand. I truly believed in the low fat and high carb diet back then and was shocked when my cholesterol numbers kept climbing.

CAROLYN: Yeah, so today we really want to clear up some of those myths and misconceptions about cholesterol and help you understand what those numbers really mean.

JOANN: That's right. And also good to know when I did change my diet and started eating real, natural fats and then cut out the bread, pasta, some of the high whole grains, my cholesterol levels began to lower. So I was able to get off my statin drug. Then I had more energy, fewer aches and pains.

CAROLYN: So listeners, if you have a copy of your blood test results or you can go online right now to see your test results, pull them out. Pull out the one that's labeled your lipid panel. The lipid panel measures your total cholesterol, your triglyceride level, your HDL level, and your LDL level. And often there's a ratio in there and that would be your total cholesterol to your HDL level. This ratio provides kind of a general risk factor for your doctor, and if it's greater than five, you're at high risk and if it's lower than three point five, you're basically at no risk. But cholesterol is complicated. And our goal today is to help you better understand your numbers.

JOANN: That's right. And to make sense of these numbers, one of the first numbers I always look at to help my clients evaluate the risk factor is the triglyceride number. So is your triglyceride number in the three hundreds or is it 150 or is it under 75 as we recommend?

CAROLYN: So it's really interesting to note that high triglyceride levels are an independent risk factor for heart disease. And this is really important, so it bears repeating. High triglyceride levels are a risk factor for heart disease. So if you have a high triglyceride level and a low HDL level, you are at a much higher risk of a heart disease. So let's explore this a little bit more.

JOANN: That's right. So again, look at your triglyceride level and we would like to see that at about 75 or lower. So people ask this question very often. What exactly are triglycerides?

CAROLYN: Oh yeah, we hear that a lot.

JOANN: So triglycerides are the most common fats found in your body and they mainly come from eating carbohydrate foods.

CAROLYN: Yes. Triglycerides are primarily made from processed carbs, sugar and alcohol, which is then stored as fat.

JOANN: That's right. And that's really important to repeat. So I'd like to repeat that one more time. Triglycerides are the storage fat produced when you eat processed carbs or sugar or alcohol.

CAROLYN: Yes. So I always say to my clients, sugar, sugar, sugar. Sugar equals carbs, right? So abnormally elevated levels of triglycerides in your blood indicate an increased risk of inflammation, atherosclerosis, and even diabetes. So your triglyceride number is very important. Again, we recommend your triglyceride number to be 75 or lower.

JOANN: And at Nutritional Weight & Wellness we have helped clients reduce their trigger triglyceride number from over a thousand or over 3000 to well below 100 by just helping them stop eating those muffins or Bagels, maybe their pizza and also to cut out soda and those fancy high sugar coffee drinks. I think that is one of the easiest of the lipid levels that we're looking at to reduce quickly.

CAROLYN: That's the one I always go after first, because most people understand that piece. When it comes to all of the other things, all of the fats, they kind of get confused about that. But sugar, we can cut that out pretty easily. So, in our Weight & Wellness series, we share a client's story that I'd like to share with you. So many people believe that a vegetarian lifestyle is a healthy one, but it's certainly not for many of us. When this client was first seen, her triglyceride level was well over 1100. Remember we said it should be below 75. And she was practicing this vegetarian way of eating for. And that was far too many carbs for her specific biochemistry. So we changed her diet and literally within weeks her triglyceride level dropped below 100, well within the safe range. So if your triglyceride level is over 150, it is time to reduce those carbs and perhaps even make an appointment with one of us or one of our other nutritionists. I see clients in our Eden Prairie office and JoAnn see his clients in Wayzata and Maple Grove. And when, when our clients cut their carb intake, they typically have a great side effect. Guess what that is? They also get to lose weight. That's great. A side side benefit of that. So it's almost time for our first break. I can't believe it. It's always that fast, right? So you are listening to Dishing Up Nutrition. Today, JoAnn and I want to help you understand the numbers on your lipid panel. So we started out talking and discussing the importance of maintaining a triglyceride level, preferably around 75 or lower. And we talk about what triglycerides are and why high triglycerides levels are a risk factor for heart disease. We also want to help you understand how your diet and what you eat and drink affects your triglyceride level. And we will be discussing all those lipoproteins, HDL and the LDL. So understanding your cholesterol really is complicated and unfortunately we have just one hour and that's nowhere near enough time to cover all of the facts, but it is enough time for us to share how important these numbers are. So get your test results out and follow along with us when we come back from break.


CAROLYN: Welcome back to Dishing Up Nutrition. As Carolyn said, understanding your cholesterol numbers and how your diet affects those numbers can be rather complex. So today, more and more of our clients just don't feel well on the medications they're taking to control their cholesterol. They're tired of being tired and feeling achy all the time. I remember when I was on a Statin I did have a lot of leg pain and I wasn't sure where that came from. Once I got off of it, it was gone. So newsflash, cholesterol levels are affected by your diet. So eating a lot of sugar and processed carbs containing soybean oil or corn oil and no doubt your cholesterol numbers are going to go up. So as Dietitians and nutritionists at Nutritional Weight & Wellness, we help people develop eating habits that will normalize your cholesterol numbers. I personally changed my diet and was able to get off my Statin drugs so I know that correct nutrition works. So feel free to call us at 651-699-3438 and let's get an appointment set up for you. So we have been talking about cholesterol numbers this morning and I just want to repeat one fact we talked about earlier that triglycerides are like the storage fat that is produced when you eat processed carbs or sugar or alcohol and just to help people understand what triglycerides are. I know that's confusing. And typically when we put move people to our eating plan of eating protein, animal protein, mostly vegetable carbs and healing fats, they typically have that great side benefit of lowering their cholesterol level and losing weight. So I just wanted to recap that a little bit. I've worked with so many clients who have been able to turn their cholesterol numbers around, especially their triglycerides. So the next number we're considering when we see clients is to look at their HDL or they're high density lipoprotein level. So we've also always heard of HDL cholesterol as the good cholesterol because it plays a very protective role in your body. HDL helps us to remove oxidized LDL cholesterol particles and those are the particles that can lead to inflammation and disease of the arteries.

CAROLYN: So, JoAnn, another way maybe to say that is that HDL actually kind of scrubs the inner walls of our blood vessels and it helps to keep them clean and healthy. So maybe people can get that visual. HDL scrubs those walls of those blood vessels.

JOANN: That's a really good way to put that. And so take a look at your HDL number. We actually often try to help people improve that number or increase that number. For HDL a higher number is usually better. For men it should be above 40 and for women it should be above 50. So, an ideal HDL level is actually within the 70 to 100 range. So when your doctor sends you to have a blood test, one of the most important things he or she checks is your triglycerides to HDL ratio.

CAROLYN: And unfortunately that one isn't usually even on your lipid panel test.

JOANN: It really isn't. So you might be wondering why is that significant? The triglyceride level to my HDL level. This ratio actually reflects how the inflammatory triglyceride particles are being balanced out by the protective HDL cholesterol particles. So the lower the number on that ratio, the better. So okay, look at your numbers again. If your triglyceride level is 70, which would definitely be ideal, and your HDL level is 70, you are perfectly balanced, so you're basically not at risk for inflammation and cardiovascular disease.

CAROLYN: So, in addition to lowering your triglycerides, really the goal is to be sure that your HDL is high enough, so that that ratio is better, right? So to get a high HDL, you could eat cold water, fish full of Omega 3s, or you can take some omega 3 fatty acids. And you should be increasing your exercise. Both those things are going to increase your HDL and therefore, kind of reduce that ratio. And I think we're saying we don't want to have any more than a two to one ratio for me or triglycerides to your HDL. I know that's what I usually tell my clients. So, but we really get concerned when our triglyceride to HDL ratio is above three. So for example, if your triglyceride level is 199 and your HDL is 40, your risk ratio is about five, right? And that is a concern and maybe that means it's time to change your eating habits. So again, I just want to repeat our recommendation of getting your triglycerides down by eliminating those processed carb foods, the sugar, lowering your sugar intake, your alcohol intake, all of those things will help reduce those triglycerides. And then to raise your HDL level, we need to eat more cold water fish or take some omega 3 fatty acids and increase our exercise.

JOANN: That's right. So as dietitians, we know and research tells us that insulin resistance, prediabetes and diabetes increase the risk of coronary heart disease and stroke. So, if your triglyceride level is higher than 100 to 150 and your HDL level is lower than 50, we think it's time to be concerned. You may want to ask yourself, what am I eating or drinking that's causing those higher blood glucose levels and higher triglyceride levels? What do I need to change in my diet? Well, maybe it's the pancakes and syrup that you ate before going to work. Or the three bottles or cans of mountain dew or any kind of pop. Those are full of high fructose corn syrup. Or maybe the fast food, the French fries that are fried in refined soybean oils or other bad fats. Did you know that two French fries turn into one teaspoon of glucose or sugar in your blood? And of course that's going to increase those triglycerides. And honestly do you know anyone who eats only two French fries? It's more like the 30 French fries and that's going to equate to 15 teaspoons of sugar in your bloodstream and going to increase those triglycerides on your lipid panel.

JOANN: That's right. So that's interesting because no one thinks of French fries as a sugary food. And yet once you eat one or two, people don't stop. Then it just keeps going. So research also tells us that high triglyceride levels in women are much more dangerous than men. And in fact, some research tells us that overweight women who have high triglycerides and diabetes have 200 times greater risk of developing heart disease. So, generally that combination is going to result in a medication prescription. And I think it’s getting to be time for her break. Next Saturday we are offering our Menopause Survival Seminar at our St Paul Location. This is a five hour seminar and it addresses health issues from women experiencing perimenopause, menopause, and post-menopause. Seventy five percent of women experience incontinence in menopause. And we have many nutritional solutions to offer. And osteoporosis is also an issue for menopausal women. Did you know that more women die of a broken bone each year than from breast and uterine cancer. So, we offer nutritional solutions for osteoporosis in this seminar. In addition to the seminar pack, the seminar is packed full of helpful information. Dar and JoAnn and Kris will be available to answer all of your personal questions. So come and join us for the day.


JOANN: Welcome back to Dishing Up Nutrition. If your HDL is a little bit low and your LDL is too high for your comfort level, we can design a cholesterol balancing eating plan. And in addition to that, we recommend supporting supplements. So two supplements that I have found to be cholesterol balancing and heart protecting are Bergamasco BPF, and that is from Ortho Molecular products. And the other product that's helpful is Cardioauxin from Nutri-Dyn. Both of these products are very effective and clients do not experience fatigue or muscle aches and pains.

CAROLYN: And those aches and pains are coming from those statin medications.

JOANN: And I just want to repeat a little what one thing I was starting earlier is we always talk about food first at Nutritional Weight & Wellness. So we always say you can take supplements, lots of supplements, and they may not be very effective unless you're food is right first. So, getting the right balance with animal protein, healing fats, and vegetable carbs is the key to making all of this work together.

CAROLYN: Yeah. You can't supplement your way out of a bad diet. People like to take the easy road.

JOANN: A lot of people stay true to their supplement plan. But the food plan gets little off sometimes. So we were talking about research tells us that high triglyceride levels in women are much more dangerous than in men. So overweight women who have high triglycerides and diabetes have 200 times greater risk of developing heart disease. That is amazing. And I know that some of the medications that they're prescribed might increase that risk even higher of developing diabetes. So if you are diabetic with high triglycerides, maybe at one time in your life you were told to eat low fat foods and may be very confused by the eating low fat, but what about the healthy fats messages that that you're getting. That advice is absolutely wrong to eat low fat, so those low fat foods often taste bad, so they add sugar or carbohydrates to improve the flavor and texture. That creates more triglycerides and results in more body fat, higher blood glucose numbers as a result. So a low fat diet is certainly not the answer. And in regards to my own personal experience, when I changed my food and stopped eating low fat, cut out the sugar, I lowered my triglycerides, I lowered my weight, and my aches and pains went away. And I know Carolyn, you have a good story too.

CAROLYN: I think now may be now is a good time to talk about that. Before I started working at Nutritional Weight & Wellness, remember I've been a dietitian for a long time, over 30 years, but my total cholesterol was over that 200 mark. And that's when doctors always say, Oh, you need to either go on a cholesterol lowering med, a satin, or they don't sometimes even give you an option. But, anyway, my cholesterol was just over 200, 209. My HDL wasn't very good. Remember it's supposed to be above 50 for women, right? Mine was 44. My LDL, which we haven't really talked too much about yet, but we will, was 151 and my triglycerides were 127. So, what did we say for triglycerides? We want it right about at 75. So, my ratio, the ratio that most doctors look at that I talked about at the very beginning of the program, was the total cholesterol to your HDL. That was 4.8. So that's a medium risk. And My triglycerides to HDL level was 2.8. So it was 127 over 44. So that definitely wasn't that 1:1 balance that we're looking for. So shortly after I started at Nutritional Weight & Wellness, I had my annual physical and I'm really happy to report that since I've been eating the Nutritional Weight & Wellness way, and I was one of those low-fat people, I was eating low fat everything. And I didn't do a lot of processed carbs, but boy, I had too many carbs for my body. So, now my cholesterol is still over 200, but my HDL has risen to 78. That's really good. And that puts my main general risk factor as no risk. And so, like down to 2.7, I believe it is. And we want to keep that number below 3.5. And my triglycerides are 76. 75 is our goal. So I'm pretty happy with that. And my ratio, then my triglycerides to HDL, it's at .9. So that's pretty darn good. And then my LDL has lowered to 114. I’d still like to get it below 100. But anyway, I'm in the no risk category. And then the other thing that happened is I also lost weight when I started eating the Nutritional Weight & Wellness way. And I had been struggling, I'm over that 60 mark and so most women do struggle after menopause with their weight. And I just couldn't get those extra pounds off. But eating the Nutritional Weight & Wellness way, I was able to drop those pounds and get my entire lipid panel in line. So my doctors are really happy with me.

So as we said earlier on the show, JoAnn and I really have been around the world for a number of years. So we both have personally followed this whole sugar story. Did you realize that as far back as 2003, which is like 16 years ago, the World Health Organization recommended that no more than 10 percent of your calories should come from sugar. Wow. That's 16 years ago that that report came out. And the report suggests that people could lower the risk of obesity, diabetes, and heart disease by simply reducing their sugar consumption. But guess what happened? The sugar industry tried to block that report and very unfortunately they succeeded. So the world hasn't heard this message loud and clear. So that's one of the things we're trying to really clear up today,

JOANN:  Right. I was reading a book too, and I was remembering it was somewhere in the ‘70s there was a similar kind of information published about sugar that was blocked from being exposed to the public. So unfortunately there's been some of that. But in 2005, the Institute of Medicine suggested that sugar consumption could increase the risk of heart disease, also diabetes, and raise our LDL cholesterol, but no one was listening. So by the year 2000, the average person consumed 90 pounds of sugar each year. That is amazing to think about. 90 pounds of sugar in a year. By 2011, it was up even higher to 156 pounds of sugar in a year. So think about that amount of sugar. So 31 five pound bags of sugar for every man, woman and child in America. Wow, that's amazing.

CAROLYN: So, I'm sure some are listening that are saying, oh, come on, I don't buy 31 bags and five pounds on each bag of sugar. But really what we want people to be thinking about is not just those bags of sugar that you're buying, but it's those processed foods, the sugar that comes from those processed foods, alcohol, and all of the baked goods and the pop and the fancy coffees. So, that equates to that 156 pounds of sugar. So it's not just the bags of sugar. So it's all of the foods that we're eating and how that turns into sugar in our body.

JOANN: Exactly. So I think it's interesting also over 15 years ago, research found that sugar increases our LDL levels. We were told that is the bad cholesterol and all along we were told that it was fat that raised our LDL. So there's more to that story after we go to break.

CAROLYN: Yeah, it's time for our last break here. So you're listening to Dishing Up Nutrition. If the winter weather makes you just want to stay home, but you're also wanting to improve your nutrition, I'd like to suggest our online Nutrition 4 Weight Loss plan. It's 12 presentations plus two, one hour individual consultations with a nutritionist or dietician. We realize that sometimes winter driving can be difficult or maybe you’re a real podcast listener, but you still want to establish better habits. So our Nutrition 4 Weight Loss series is a great solution. If you have questions for us, please call us at 651-699-3438 or go online and check us out. We'll be right back.


JOANN: Welcome back to Dishing Up Nutrition. So just to recap, we've been talking today about cholesterol numbers. We've talked about triglycerides, talked about HDL and starting to talk a little bit about LDL here. So over 15 years ago, research found that sugar increases our LDL levels. Previously we had been told we had to reduce our fat to reduce those LDL levels, but that's not true.

CAROLYN: It didn't work for me!

JOANN: No, me either. So yeah. So, there is more to that story. And Carolyn's going to explain more, right?

CAROLYN: So when we talk about LDL cholesterol or that low density lipoproteins, there are so many layers of information. So first of all, what is the accepted LDL range? Generally the accepted range level is below 130. That will put you at a very low risk, but it really depends on what type of LDL cholesterol you have. So both HDL and LDL cholesterol are made up of different particles. So if you are concerned, it's really best to ask your doctor to run what's called a particle test to determine if you have the light and fluffy LDL and some people do. And those LDL numbers are high and they get concerned. But if they have the light and fluffy, that's not bad. That's kind of the good LDL. But you could also have those small dense LDL particles, and those are not so good for your health. But I have found JoAnn, that some doctors just refuse to run this test.

JOANN: I agree. And I know a lot of people just don't want to pay extra for more tests on their own or maybe don't even know they have that option.

CAROLYN: But then I say to people, okay, so you're going to start taking a statin and how much is that going to cost you and what your deductible or whatever. And then we kind of reason it out. And I say, okay, maybe it's worth running this one test.

JOANN: Yeah. If you can. Also too, if you do have those light fluffy particles, it does reduce your risk. But if you have the small dense LDL particles that are oxidized and inflamed, you are at more risk.

CAROLYN: So when you think of LDL and HDL cholesterol, the LDL carries kind of that ready to use cholesterol molecules or particles to be absorbed by the cells that need the LDL cholesterol. And we need some LDL cholesterol. And the HDL actually picks up that excess cholesterol and carries it back to your level liver for recycling and excretion. So, the HDL and the LDL actually work together to keep us healthy.

JOANN: That's right. And I want to finish up our discussion about cholesterol today by sharing some surprising information. Most people think LDL is bad cholesterol, but the reality is LDL cholesterol is really not bad at all. It actually has many functions in the body. So in past shows we've talked about having healthy cell membranes and how that is important. Our LDL cholesterol carries beneficial nutrients to all of our cells. So we need some of that LDL. LDL is a carrier of those good nutrients. LDL cholesterol also helps to make cortisol and estrogen and progesterone and testosterone. Those are all important hormones. So we need LDL to produce our hormones. Lastly, LDL cholesterol plays an important role in brain health and brain function. It's a master antioxidant for the brain and helps to make vitamin D. And actually I thought that was interesting. We talked about it being a master antioxidant for the brain. When my dad was on a statin medication but was diagnosed with dementia, they took him off that statin medication immediately. So that tells you something about maybe they do know that there is some risk there.

CAROLYN:  And JoAnn, I’ve got to say the same thing with my father. He was on a statin forever and then when he got dementia, he miraculously came off of the statin and I never really realized until I came to Nutritional Weight & Wellness why that was. So, understanding cholesterol as you can well imagine is very complicated and it's unfortunate that most people have not been given accurate information about it. So if you want to know more about cholesterol, we cover the topic in our Weight & Wellness series in great detail. Or you might want to pick up a book. One of the books we recommend is The Great Cholesterol Myth by cardiologist Dr Stephen Sinatra and certified nutrition specialist, Dr. Jonny Bowden. We have so many clients who have been able to normalize their cholesterol levels through eating real, natural fat and limiting their consumption of sugar and processed foods. So as we always say, “food first.” We find when people follow our Weight & Wellness eating plan, they no longer need cholesterol lowering drugs. The biggest benefits of choosing food over drugs are having more energy, a better memory, and fewer aches and pains. Another great side effect is balanced hormones. So this is right is the end of our show today. So, our goal here at Nutritional Weight & Wellness is to help each and every person experience better health through eating real food. It's a simple, yet powerful message. Eating real food is life changing. Thank you all for listening today and have a wonderful day.

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