Five Cholesterol Myths and What to Eat Instead

You knew there was a bit of an over-emphasis (borderlining obsession) about cholesterol, right?

Before we jump into some myths let’s make sure we’re on the same page when it comes to what exactly cholesterol is.

Myth #1: “Cholesterol” is cholesterol

While cholesterol is an actual molecule what it is bound to while it’s floating through your blood is what’s more important than just how much of it there is overall. In fact depending on what it’s combined with can have opposite effects on your arteries and heart. Yes, opposite!

So cholesterol is just one component of a compound that floats around your blood. These compounds contain cholesterol as well as fats and special proteins called “lipoproteins”.

They’re grouped into two main categories:

  • HDL: High Density Lipoprotein (AKA “good” cholesterol) that “cleans up” some of those infamous “arterial plaques” and transports cholesterol back to the liver.

  • LDL: Low Density Lipoprotein (AKA “bad” cholesterol) that transports cholesterol from the liver (and is the kind found to accumulate in arteries and become easily oxidized hence their “badness”).

And yes, it’s even more complicated than this. Each of these categories is further broken down into subcategories which can also be measured in a blood test.

So “cholesterol” isn’t simply cholesterol because it has very different effects on your body depending on which other molecules it’s bound to in your blood and what it is actually doing there.

Myth #2: Cholesterol is bad

Cholesterol is absolutely necessary for your body to produce critical things like vitamin D when your skin is exposed to the sun, your sex hormones (e.g. estrogen and testosterone), as well as bile to help you absorb dietary fats. Not to mention that it’s incorporated into the membranes of your cells.

Talk about an important molecule!

The overall amount of cholesterol in your blood (AKA “total cholesterol”) isn’t nearly as important as how much of each kind you have in your blood.

While way too much LDL cholesterol as compared with HDL (the LDL:HDL ratio) may be associated with an increased risk of heart disease it is absolutely not the only thing to consider for heart health.

Myth #3: Eating cholesterol increases your bad cholesterol

Most of the cholesterol in your blood is made by your liver. It’s actually not from the cholesterol you eat. Why do you think cholesterol medications block an enzyme in your liver (HMG Co-A reductase, to be exact)? ‘Cause that’s where it’s made!

What you eat still can affect how much cholesterol your liver produces. After a cholesterol-rich meal your liver doesn’t need to make as much.

Myth #4: Your cholesterol should be as low as possible

As with almost everything in health and wellness there’s a balance that needs to be maintained. There are very few extremes that are going to serve you well.

People with too-low levels of cholesterol have increased risk of death from other non-heart-related issues like certain types of cancers, as well as suicide.

Myth #5: Drugs are the only way to get a good cholesterol balance

Don’t start or stop any medications without talking with your doctor.

And while drugs can certainly lower the “bad” LDL cholesterol they don’t seem to be able to raise the “good” HDL cholesterol all that well.

Guess what does?

Nutrition and exercise, baby!

One of the most impactful ways to lower your cholesterol with diet is to eat lots of fruits and veggies. I mean lots, say up to 10 servings a day. Every day.

Don’t worry the recipe below should help you add at least another salad to your day.

You can (should?) also exercise, lose weight, stop smoking, and eat better quality fats. That means fatty fish, avocados and olive oil. Ditch those over-processed hydrogenated “trans” fats.

Summary:

The science of cholesterol and heart health is complicated and we’re learning more every day. You may not need to be as afraid of it as you are. And there is a lot you can do from a nutrition and lifestyle perspective to improve your cholesterol level.

Recipe (Dressing to go with your salad): Orange Hemp Seed Dressing

Makes about ¾ cup

½ cup hemp seeds

½ cup orange juice

1 clove of garlic, peeled

dash salt and/or pepper

Blend all ingredients together until creamy.

Serve on top of your favourite salad and Enjoy!

Tip: Store extra in airtight container in the fridge. Will keep for about a week.

Why Your Waist Circumference Matters 100x More Than What You Weigh

Why Your Waist Circumference Matters 100x More Than What You Weigh

You totally want to ditch your scale, don’t you?

You may have this weird kind of relationship with your “weight”.

I mean, it doesn’t define you (obviously).

What you weigh can matter but only to a certain extent.

Let’s look at your waist circumference (well…you look at yours and I’ll look at mine).

Waist Circumference (AKA “Belly Fat”):

Do you remember the fruity body shape descriptions being like an “apple” or a “pear”? The apple is kinda round around the middle (you know – belly fat-ish, kinda beer belly-ish) and the pear is rounder around the hips/thighs.

THAT is what we’re talking about here.

Do you know which shape is associated with a higher risk of sleep apnea, blood sugar issues (e.g. insulin resistance and diabetes) and heart issues (high blood pressure, blood fat, and arterial diseases).

Yup – that apple!

And it’s not because of the subcutaneous (under the skin) fat that you may refer to as a “muffin top”. The health risk is actually due to the fat inside the abdomen covering the liver, intestines and other organs there.

This internal fat is called “visceral fat” and that’s where a lot of the problem actually is. It’s this “unpinchable” fat.

The reason the visceral fat can be a health issue is because it releases fatty acids, inflammatory compounds, and hormones that can negatively affect your blood fats, blood sugars, and blood pressure.

And the apple-shaped people tend to have a lot more of this hidden visceral fat than the pear-shaped people do.

So as you can see where your fat is stored is more important that how much you weigh.

Am I an apple or a pear?

It’s pretty simple to find out if you’re in the higher risk category or not. The easiest way is to just measure your waist circumference with a measuring tape. You can do it right now.

Women, if your waist is 35” or more you could be considered to have “abdominal obesity” and be in the higher risk category. Pregnant ladies are exempt, of course.

For men the number is 40”.

Of course this isn’t a diagnostic tool. There are lots of risk factors for chronic diseases. Waist circumference is just one of them.

If you have concerns definitely see your doctor.

Tips for helping reduce some belly fat:

  • Eat more fiber. Fiber can help reduce belly fat in a few ways. First of all it helps you feel full and also helps to reduce the amount of calories you absorb from your food. Some examples of high-fiber foods are brussel sprouts, flax and chia seeds, avocado, and blackberries.

  • Add more protein to your day. Protein reduces your appetite and makes you feel fuller longer. It also has a high TEF (thermic effect of food) compared with fats and carbs and ensures you have enough of the amino acid building blocks for your muscles.

  • Nix added sugars. This means ditch the processed sweetened foods especially those sweet drinks (even 100% pure juice).

  • Move more. Get some aerobic exercise. Lift some weights. Walk and take the stairs. It all adds up.

  • Stress less. Seriously! Elevated levels in the stress hormone cortisol have been shown to increase appetite and drive abdominal fat.

  • Get more sleep. Try making this a priority and seeing how much better you feel (and look).

Recipe (High fiber side dish): Garlic Lemon Roasted Brussel Sprouts

Serves 4

1 lb brussel sprouts (washed, ends removed, halved)

2-3 cloves of garlic (minced)

2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

2 teaspoons fresh lemon juice

dash salt and pepper

Preheat oven to 400F.

In a bowl toss sprouts with garlic, oil, and lemon juice. Spread on a baking tray and season with salt and pepper.

Bake for about 15 minutes. Toss.

Bake for another 10 minutes.

Serve and Enjoy!

Tip: Brussel sprouts contain the fat-soluble bone-loving vitamin K. You may want to eat them more often.

Why is My Metabolism Slow?

You may feel tired, cold or that you’ve gained weight. Maybe your digestion seems a bit more “sluggish”.

You may be convinced that your metabolism is slow.

Why does this happen? Why do metabolic rates slow down?

What can slow my metabolism?

Metabolism includes all of the biochemical reactions in your body that use nutrients and oxygen to create energy. And there are lots of factors that affect how quickly (or slowly) it works, i.e. your “metabolic rate” (which is measured in calories).

But don’t worry – we know that metabolic rate is much more complicated than the old adage “calories in calories out”! In fact it’s so complicated I’m only going to list a few of the common things that can slow it down.

Examples of common reasons why metabolic rates can slow down:

  • low thyroid hormone

  • your history of dieting

  • your size and body composition

  • your activity level

  • lack of sleep

We’ll briefly touch on each one below and I promise to give you better advice than just to “eat less and exercise more”.

Low thyroid hormones

Your thyroid is the master controller of your metabolism. When it produces fewer hormones your metabolism slows down. The thyroid hormones (T3 & T4) tell the cells in your body when to use more energy and become more metabolically active. Ideally it should work to keep your metabolism just right. But there are several things that can affect it and throw it off course. Things like autoimmune diseases and mineral deficiencies (e.g. iodine or selenium) for example.

Tip: Talk with your doctor about having your thyroid hormones tested.

Your history of dieting

When people lose weight their metabolic rate often slows down. This is because the body senses that food may be scarce and adapts by trying to continue with all the necessary life functions and do it all with less food.

While dieting can lead to a reduction in amount of fat it unfortunately can also lead to a reduction in the amount of muscle you have. As you know more muscle means faster resting metabolic rate.

Tip: Make sure you’re eating enough food to fuel your body without overdoing it.

Your size and body composition

In general, larger people have faster metabolic rates. This is because it takes more energy to fuel a larger body than a smaller one.

However, you already know that gaining weight is rarely the best strategy for increasing your metabolism.

Muscles that actively move and do work need energy. Even muscles at rest burn more calories than fat. This means that the amount of energy your body uses depends partly on the amount of lean muscle mass you have.

Tip: Do some weight training to help increase your muscle mass.

Which leads us to…

Your activity level

Aerobic exercise temporarily increases your metabolic rate. Your muscles are burning fuel to move and do “work” and you can tell because you’re also getting hotter.

Even little things can add up. Walking a bit farther than you usually do, using a standing desk instead of sitting all day, or taking the stairs instead of the elevator can all contribute to more activity in your day.

Tip: Incorporate movement into your day. Also, exercise regularly.

Lack of sleep

There is plenty of research that shows the influence that sleep has on your metabolic rate. The general consensus is to get 7-9 hours of sleep every night.

Tip: Try to create a routine that allows at least 7 hours of sleep every night.

Recipe (Selenium-rich): Chocolate Chia Seed Pudding

Serves 4

½ cup Brazil nuts

2 cups water

nut bag or several layers of cheesecloth (optional)

½ cup chia seeds

¼ cup unsweetened cacao powder

½ teaspoon ground cinnamon

¼ teaspoon sea salt

1 tablespoon maple syrup

Blend Brazil nuts in water in a high-speed blender until you get smooth, creamy milk. If desired, strain it with a nut bag or several layers of cheesecloth.

Add Brazil nut milk and other ingredients into a bowl and whisk until combined. Let sit several minutes (or overnight) until desired thickness is reached.

Serve & Enjoy!

Tip: Makes a simple delicious breakfast or dessert topped with berries.

Bye Bye Sleeping Through the Night

Have you said “bye bye” to sleeping through the night?

Are you feeling exhausted or “running on stress hormones” all day?

Do not fear, I have some great tips (and an amazing recipe) for you!

The science of sleep is fascinating, complicated and growing

Sleep is this daily thing that we all do and yet we’re just beginning to understand all of the ways it helps us and all of the factors that can affect it.

Lack of sleep affects just about everything in your body and mind. People who get less sleep tend to be at higher risk for so many health issues like diabetes, heart disease, and certain types of cancer; not to mention effects like slower metabolism, weight gain, hormone imbalance, and inflammation. And don’t forget the impact lack of sleep can have on moods, memory and decision-making skills.

Do you know that lack of sleep may even negate the health benefits of your exercise program? (Gasp!)

OMG – What aspect of health does sleep not affect???

Knowing this it’s easy to see the three main purposes of sleep:

  • To restore our body and mind. Our bodies repair, grow and even “detoxify” our brains while we sleep.

  • To improve our brain’s ability to learn and remember things, technically known as “synaptic plasticity”.

  • To conserve some energy so we’re not just actively “out and about” 24-hours a day, every day.

Do you know how much sleep adults need? It’s less than your growing kids need but you may be surprised that it’s recommended that all adults get 7 – 9 hours a night. For real!

Try not to skimp!

(Don’t worry, I have you covered with a bunch of actionable tips below.)

Tips for better sleep

  • The biggest tip is definitely to try to get yourself into a consistent sleep schedule. Make it a priority and you’re more likely to achieve it. This means turning off your lights 8 hours before your alarm goes off. Seven. Days. A. Week. I know weekends can easily throw this off but by making sleep a priority for a few weeks your body and mind will adjust and thank you for it.

  • Balance your blood sugar throughout the day. You know, eat less refined and processed foods and more whole foods (full of blood-sugar-balancing fiber). Choose the whole orange instead of the juice (or orange-flavored snack). Make sure you’re getting some protein every time you eat.

  • During the day get some sunshine and exercise. These things tell your body it’s daytime; time for being productive, active and alert. By doing this during the day it will help you wind down more easily in the evening.

  • Cut off your caffeine and added sugar intake after 12pm. Whole foods like fruits and veggies are fine, it’s the “added” sugar we’re minimizing. Yes, this includes your beloved chai latte. Both caffeine and added sugar can keep your mind a bit more active than you want it to be come evening. (HINT: I have a great caffeine-free chai latte recipe for you below!).

  • Have a relaxing bedtime routine that starts 1 hour before your “lights out” time (that is 8 – 10 hours before your alarm is set to go off). This would include dimming your artificial lights, nixing screen time and perhaps reading an (actual, not “e”) book or having a bath.

So how many of these tips can you start implementing today?

Recipe (Caffeine-free latte for your afternoon “coffee break”): Caffeine-Free Chai Latte

Serves 1-2

1 bag of rooibos chai tea (rooibos is naturally caffeine-free)

2 cups of boiling water

1 tablespoon tahini

1 tablespoon almond butter (creamy is preferred)

2 dates (optional)

Cover the teabag and dates (if using) with 2 cups of boiling water and steep for a few minutes.

Discard the tea bag & place tea, soaked dates, tahini & almond butter into a blender.

Blend until creamy.

Serve and Enjoy!

Tip: You can try this with other nut or seed butters to see which flavor combination you like the best. Cashew butter anyone?