TIPS TO REDUCE YOUR CHOLESTEROL LEVEL
What is cholesterol?
Cholesterol is a fat (lipid) that circulates around the body in our bloodstream. It is essential for building healthy cells, but too much cholesterol can be harmful because it builds up in the artery walls, narrowing them and making them less flexible. This can reduce the blood supply to vital organs such as the heart and brain, increasing the risk of heart attacks and stroke.
There are two main types of cholesterol: HDL (high-density lipoprotein) cholesterol is known as ‘good’ cholesterol because it helps return excess cholesterol to the liver where it is broken down and removed from the body. High levels of HDL cholesterol reduce your risk for heart disease and stroke.
LDL (low-density lipoprotein) cholesterol is known as ‘bad’ cholesterol because it transports most of the cholesterol around the body. If we have too much of this type of cholesterol in our blood, it can build up in our arteries causing them to narrow or harden (atherosclerosis).
What causes high cholesterol levels?
High levels of ‘bad’ LDL cholesterol are caused by a combination of lifestyle factors and genetics. Diet plays an important role – foods that contain saturated fat such as red meat, butter and cheese raise our total blood cholesterol levels. Inactivity also raises total blood cholesterol levels because muscles use up more LDL.
High cholesterol is a major risk factor for heart disease, the leading cause of death in the United States. Fortunately, there are things you can do to lower your cholesterol and protect your heart.
Here are 10 lifestyle changes you can make to achieve a healthy cholesterol level:
- Eat healthily
The best diet for high cholesterol includes whole grains, fruits and vegetables, fish, nuts and beans, low-fat dairy products, poultry, and lean meats. To help lower your LDL cholesterol, cut back on red meat, full-fat dairy products, and foods made with tropical oils like coconut oil and palm oil.
- Exercise regularly
Aerobic exercise boosts your heart health by helping you lose weight and lowering your blood pressure. This can lower your LDL cholesterol. Aim for at least 30 minutes of aerobic exercise most days of the week. If you’re new to exercise or if you haven’t done it in a while, start slowly.
- Lose weight
Being overweight or obese can increase your risk of developing high cholesterol. Losing just 10 pounds can make a difference in your total cholesterol level. To drop the pounds, try to eat fewer calories each day and increase the number of calories you burn through activity.
- Limit alcohol use.
Drinking too much alcohol can raise triglyceride levels and lead to other unhealthy conditions, such as high blood pressure or obesity — both of which raise your risk of heart disease. The American Heart Association recommends no more than one alcoholic drink per day for women or two drinks per day for men.
- Limit saturated fats
Saturated fats raise LDL levels more than anything else in the diet. Limit foods rich in saturated fats like butter, cheese, red meat, and ice cream. Choose lean cuts of meats and poultry without skin or trans-fats (partially hydrogenated oils).
- Trans Fat
Trans fats are unsaturated fats that have been modified by a process called hydrogenation. This is done to make the unsaturated fats in vegetable oils more stable.
The resulting trans fats are not fully saturated and are called partially hydrogenated oils (PHOs). Trans fats increase total cholesterol and LDL but decrease beneficial HDL. Foods that commonly contain trans fats include:
- margarine and shortening
- pastries and other baked goods
- some microwaveable popcorn
- fried fast foods
- some pizzas
- nondairy coffee creamer
In the United States, and in an increasing number of other countries, food companies are required to list the number of trans fats in their products on nutrition labels. However, these labels can be misleading, because companies are allowed to round down when the amount of trans fat per serving is less than 0.5 grams per serving. This means some foods contain trans fats even though their labels say “0 grams of trans fat per serving.” To avoid being misled, be sure to read the ingredients list in addition to the nutrition label. If a product contains “partially hydrogenated” oil, it contains trans fats and should be avoided.
- Eat more soluble fiber
Soluble fiber is a group of different compounds in plants that dissolve in water and that humans can’t digest. However, the beneficial bacteria that live in your intestines can digest soluble fiber. In fact, they require it for their own nutrition. Research has shown that these good bacteria, also called probiotics, can help reduce LDL levels.
Soluble fiber found in dried beans, oats, and barley can help lower total blood cholesterol levels by lowering LDL or “bad” cholesterol levels. You need about 5 to 10 grams a day to lower LDL cholesterol; try instant oatmeal (1/2 cup has 2 grams), whole-grain bread (one slice has 1 gram), kidney beans (1/2 cup has 4 grams), and bran cereals (a half-cup has 6 grams). Some other sources of soluble fiber include:
- beans and lentils
- Brussels sprouts
- Quit Smoking
Smoking increases the risk of heart disease in several ways. One of these is by changing how the body handles cholesterol. The immune cells in smokers are unable to return cholesterol from vessel walls to the blood for transport to the liver. This damage is related to tobacco tar, rather than nicotine. These dysfunctional immune cells may contribute to the faster development of clogged arteries in smokers.
Cigarettes contain a toxic chemical compound called acrolein that can be absorbed into the bloodstream through the lungs. Scientists believe it impairs how HDL in the body transports cholesterol and thereby increases LDL levels, which may lead to the development of heart disease.
- Opt for Olive Oil
Substituting olive oil for butter may reduce LDL cholesterol by as much as 15%. The “good” fats in olive oil benefit your heart. Choose extra-virgin olive oil. It’s less processed and contains more antioxidants, which help prevent disease.