You've heard the saying "prevention is better than cure." During the month of September, you are encouraged to consider your cardiac health.

Do you know your numbers?

High blood cholesterol is one of the major risk factors for heart disease. According to the Center for Disease Control (CDC), in the United States one in every four deaths is due to heart disease.

Lowering your blood cholesterol levels will reduce your risk for heart disease and reduces your chance of having a heart attack. The key to preventing heart disease is knowledge plus early intervention.

If you have two or more risk factors for heart disease, it is especially important to know your blood cholesterol numbers and intervene appropriately. What are the risk factors for high blood cholesterol?

Family history of heart disease
Physical inactivity -- less than 150 minutes of cardiovascular activity per week
High cholesterol levels
Low HDL (high-density lipoprotein) levels
High blood pressure
Age: Men older than 45, women older than 55

Nutrition guidelines for prevention:
Nutritionally, there are several things you can do to improve your cardiovascular health. Evaluate your current nutrition habits.

If there is room for improvement (and there's usually always room for improvement), consider adopting some of these guidelines for lowering your blood cholesterol (including "the bad" LDL cholesterol) levels.

• Consume foods that are naturally high in fiber, especially soluble fiber. Soluble fiber is found in legumes, fruits and root vegetables, as well as oats, barley and flax. The goal is for 10-25 grams of soluble fiber per day.

• Limit the amount of saturated fat you consume from dairy products, red meat and tropical oils.

• Avoid foods with added trans-fat. This fat comes from partially hydrogenated vegetables oils often found in fried and processed foods like chips, crackers, baked goods and desserts.

• Limit you intake of sugar and fructose. This should lower triglycerides, aid in weight loss and will help lower LDL.

• Limit your daily cholesterol intake to no more than 200 mg.

• If you are overweight, lose weight. This will help lower your total cholesterol and raise your HDL. The best way to lose weight and keep it off is to exercise (aerobic-cardiovascular type) and eat a diet that is high in fiber and low in calorie density.

Now that you know the risk factors and have evaluated your diet. Set a goal, make plans to implement and start today.

If you do not know your cholesterol numbers or it has been awhile since you've had your levels checked, visit your local health clinic or primary care manager to have lab work ordered and request to meet with the team of other medical professionals ready to assist you with weight management, diet, exercise and smoking cessation.

Editor's Note: Tara Lemons serves as a registered dietitian at the Bavaria Medical Department Activity.