3 numbers that DO give you a good idea about your health.

So BMI is bullocks and the number on the scale doesn’t necessarily tell you much about your health.

So instead of worrying about BMI or weight, here are 6 numbers that DO give you a good idea about your health.

HbA1c

Short answer: HbA1c is a measure of sugar in the blood. It’s a blood test your GP can do to test for diabetes.

Long answer: HbA1c is glycated hemoglobin. Hemoglobin is a protein that lives inside your red blood cells and carries oxygen around your body. Sugar in your blood can stick to the outside of these proteins – this is the glycated bit. The more sugar you have in your blood, the more sugar sticks to the outside of the hemoglobin, so the higher the number. Red blood cells live in our body for 3 months before they are broken down and new ones are made. Which is why HbA1c is a 3 month indicator of sugar levels.

Normal HbA1c is 21 – 39 mmol/L

Pre-diabetic (not diabetic yet, but higher risk or heading that way) is 40 – 49 mmol/L

Diabetic is 50+ mmol/L

Cholesterol:

Short answer: I don’t think there is a short answer, but I’ll give it a go ….

When you got to the GP you can get your cholesterol readings done, it’s a simple blood test. and I recommend getting a full lipid panel done every year. They measure total cholesterol, HDL, triglycerides and they calculate LDL cholesterol and your cholesterol ratio.

Cholesterol is a type of fat that is made in our liver and is found in animal foods. It’s a super important fat which is essential for life. Cholesterol is imperative for making hormones, such as testosterone and for sitting inside every cell membrane of our body. Without cholesterol in our body we’re screwed.

However, having too much cholesterol in our blood has been thought to increase our risk of heart disease. With this reasoning, current recommendations for Total cholesterol is under 5.0mmol/L – but this is highly contentious and there is some evidence to show that higher cholesterol levels are protective, especially in older people. And some evidence that it’s not the cholesterol that increases our risk of heart disease, but inflammation. And this is why there is not a short answer, because, quite frankly, there is a lot we don’t know and even more over which experts are arguing over….

Triglycerides are lipids that float around in our blood. These levels fluctuate a lot each day, after a meal they will be much higher, then your body stores triglycerides away into fat cells and releases them again, between meals, to keep your body fueled. You don’t want triglycerides to be too high and when you do this test it’s only valuable if you’re fasting (because they’ll likely be super high, depending on what you just ate, and you’ll think your about to die, but actually you’re not). Under 1 is brilliant, under 2 is the recommendations.

HDL and LDL are actually proteins that carry fat and cholesterol, in your blood, from your liver to the cells around your body and back again.

HDL is like a vacuum cleaner. It cruises around picking extra fat and cholesterol and taking it back to the liver (reducing the amount of fat in your blood). Higher HDL levels are good as HDL is protective against heart disease. Over 1 is the aim, but higher is better.

LDL is like a bus and drops fat and cholesterol from the liver to the cells in your body, so they can use it for energy and other things. LDL is considered the ‘bad’ cholesterol because higher LDL levels are thought to be associated with higher risks of heart disease. BUT there are different types of LDL proteins. The main ones are type A, which are big and fluffy and do not increase your risk of heart disease and Type B which are small and dense and do increase your risk of heart disease. These are not currently tested for in NZ. Which is unfortunate, as they are an important marker of health. Also, LDL is currently not measured, but worked out in a calculation.

Pictured below are my cholesterol readings. The bottom one is from 2010 and 2011, when I ate a standard western diet, margarine, processed foods, lots of pretend health foods, such as, sugary cereals, sweetened yoghurts etc. The results aren’t bad. Triglycerides are nice and low, total cholesterol is under 5. HDL is supposed to be over 1 and it is and LDL is 2.5 which is under 3 so, also quite good. The cholesterol/HDL ratio is 2.4 and 2.5, which is under 4.5, so also good.

The top one is from 2017. After eating a higher fat diet, but more wholefoods, way more plants and way less processed foods. Trigs are still good, Cholesterol is a wee bit high, but not of concern. Whats amazing is the HDL at 2.55 which is higher than the LDL at 2.2 and LDL is comparatively much lower to the previous reading.

You can’t look at these numbers in isolation, you need the whole picture, just a cholesterol reading is not particularly helpful and the amount of cholesterol your liver makes is impacted by age and genetics.

Long answer… because the short answer wasn’t long enough: Cholesterol is a highly contentious topic which has resulted in nutrition experts hotly debating what’s known as the ‘diet heart hypothesis’. Traditionally, it was thought that when you ate cholesterol containing foods (think animal products containing fat, meat, dairy, eggs) that would increase the levels of cholesterol in your blood, clog up your arteries and cause heart disease. We now know that our liver makes all the cholesterol we need and cholesterol containing foods do not increase cholesterol levels in the blood or increase your risk of heart disease.

Currently, the official advice is to limit foods containing saturated fats, as that is thought to increase the ‘bad’ cholesterol in your blood and increase your risk of heart disease. BUT there is some evidence and some nutrition researchers and experts who say that this is not the case. We know, for example, that some saturated fats, like stearic acid (found in chocolate!) actually increases our HDL or ‘good’ cholesterol and other saturated fats reduce our HDL and increase our LDL. AND we now know that the saturated fats in dairy don’t increase our risk of heart disease (you can read more about that here, in the Heart Foundations Position Statement).

So! Basically, not all saturated fats act the same in our body and there are two very different schools of thought on cholesterol readings and saturated fats and whether they are going to make us sick and die. There is a lot we don’t know and there is no way we can conclude anything here, with the evidence we have. Confused? Let’s strip it all back down to heart health 101: Focus your food choices on mostly plants, don’t worry about the total fat in your diet, but choose most of your fats from sources we know are brilliant for us, olive oil, avocado, fatty fish, nuts, seeds, peanut butter etc. Make sure you exercise, get 8 hours sleep most nights and take time out to relax.

Blood Pressure:

Short answer: Blood pressure is a measure of how much pressure is in your artery when your heart muscle is contracted (systolic – that’s the top number) and when your heart is relaxed (diastolic- that’s the bottom number).

πŸ‘‰ Normal blood pressure is 120/80 πŸ‘‰ High blood pressure is 140/90

Long answer: 1 in 3 New Zealanders have high blood pressure, or hypertension. High blood pressure can put extra pressure on our hearts and blood vessels and increase our risk of all sorts of health related complications., such as heart disease and strokes. Pretty scary stuff!

So what is Blood Pressure and HOW can we make sure its within a healthy range?

πŸ’œ If your blood pressure is too low, then you may get dizzy when you stand up and your heart won’t be pumping hard enough to get the blood around your body.

πŸ’œ If your blood pressure is too high, then that puts stress and strain on your heart and blood vessels, which can affect your entire body.

It’s important to remember that our blood pressure changes every second of every day, in response to breathing, moving, levels of stress and relaxation. One high blood pressure reading doesn’t mean you have high blood pressure. If you are attacked by a lion, say, then it is normal for your blood pressure to increase quite a lot. But when you escape the lion, your blood pressure should drop down. It’s when your blood pressure is high a lot of the time and at rest, (ie. not fighting lions πŸ˜‰) that it’s a concern.

Worried about your health? Want help understanding your blood tests and what nutrition choices you can make to improve your health? Book a consult now! I have plenty of service options available to help you on your food and health journey.

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