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Gina Cousineau

By Gina Cousineau

With September touted as National Cholesterol Education Month, it provides me with yet another opportunity to remind my readers of the critical importance of their heart health, and my desire each month to provide continuing education on how to move toward a healthier lifestyle.

According to the World Health Organization, cardiovascular disease (CVD) is the leading cause of death around the world, taking an estimated 17.9 million lives each year, including four out of five of these deaths because of heart attack.

Humbling statistics, to say the least, given that we actually can reduce our risk with modest behavioral changes.

First, know your risk because of the following factors:

  1. Family history of heart disease and/or high cholesterol
  2. Type 2 Diabetes
  3. Being older and/or being a male
  4. Being overweight or obese
  5. Previous history of high cholesterol

Next, know your blood lipid numbers (drawn after a 9- to12-hour fast):

  1. Total Cholesterol. While 200 is the upper “normal limit,” 150 ml/dL is optimal. This number is derived from LDL, HDL and VLDL (related to triglycerides) combined.
  2. LDL Cholesterol. About 100 mg/dL is considered optimal. Often considered the “bad” cholesterol, because it can build up in your arteries, leading to heart disease or stroke.
  3. HDL Cholesterol. Equal or greater than 40 mg/dL in men and 50 mg/dL in women is considered optimal. Deemed the “good” cholesterol, it can help reduce cholesterol buildup, but often too much weight is given to a “high” level being protective. All lipid values matter.
  4. Triglycerides. Optimal levels are typically less than 150 mg/dL.

So, let’s talk about the importance of understanding your personal cholesterol numbers. As a dietitian, many of my clients have blood lipid numbers that are out of range, but they are not concerned, for a number of reasons.

I am here to raise your level of curiosity, and more importantly, your ability to shift behaviors that can increase your longevity and decrease years of disability.

Now that you have evaluated your numbers, if you have hyperlipidemia, meaning one or more of your lipids are out of range, you have too much fat in your blood, and we must heighten our concern, adding into the mix your overall health plus other risk factors, including smoking and/or high blood pressure, which elevate the threat.

On a positive note, we can lower cholesterol levels, which will dramatically reduce this tremendous health burden.

While prevention will always be my goal, we can both halt and reverse CVD. According to, here is how:

  1. Eat a heart-healthy diet. Most diet approaches are about weight loss and not health gain. As a matter of fact, the multibillion-dollar health and fitness industry is proof that the almighty goal of lowering the number on the scale is potentially harmful to our health, with all the pills, powders, potions, and quick-fixes at our fingertips. By the way, you cannot out-train your bad diet. Simply add more plants into your life, including vegetables, fruit, whole grains, legumes, nuts, seeds, paired with nonfat/lowfat dairy, and lean animal proteins.
  2. Become more physically active. All major health organizations recommend 150 minutes a week of moderate-intensity aerobic exercise. A walking program is a wonderful place to start.
  3. Quit smoking. Smoking cessation can lower LDL and increase HDL levels.
  4. Losing weight. Losing as little as 5-10% can help improve cholesterol numbers.

This month, I am offering a complimentary preventative care screening appointment. Simply email me at to receive an application to become eligible for this 50-minute private session.

Gina Cousineau is a local nutrition expert who specializes in weight loss and helping her clients improve their health. As a trained chef with her BS in Dietetics and MS in Integrative and Functional Nutrition, her goal is to help her clients enjoy every morsel they consume, learning how to move with ease in the kitchen while using their “food as medicine.” Subscribe to her weekly newsletter for complimentary cooking classes, recipes, webinars and more at, or reach her at and 949.842.9975.

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