In our “quick fix” age, it’s easy to see why people choose medications to lower their cholesterol. These type of prescription drugs are readily available and require very little effort. In fact, statins are now the number one selling class of drugs in the nation, and even more new cholesterol medications are produced every day. While a quick-fix may seem like a good option, research has shown that making diet and lifestyle changes to lower cholesterol have a more positive effect on preventing heart disease and strokes.
Cholesterol is a type of lipid or fat that travels through the bloodstream in particles called lipoproteins. Low-density lipoproteins (LDL) are considered the “bad cholesterol” because they can lead to a build-up of plaque in arteries. High-density lipoproteins (HDL) are the good “good cholesterol” because they pick up the LDL clogging your arteries and take it to the liver, where it’s processed and eventually excreted.
A total blood cholesterol level of 200 and above is cause for concern, especially if you have type 2 diabetes, according to the American Heart Association. Doctors are looking for you to have the following breakdown:
- Triglycerides less than 150 mg/dl.
- Total cholesterol less than 200 mg/dl.
- HDL "good" cholesterol over 40 mg/dl.
- LDL "bad" cholesterol less than 100 mg/dl.
So, how do you lower cholesterol without the use of medication? A healthy diet, regular physical activity and a few more of the tips below will help you on your quest for lowering your cholesterol.
1. Choose the Right Fats
Some fats help lower cholesterol, while others can raise it. You need to shift your focus ffrom a low-fat diet, to a good fat diet. Bad fats are trans and saturated fats, primarily from animal products, that increase the risk for certain diseases. Good fats are monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats, and they do just the opposite.They are good for the heart and most other parts of the body. It’s important to make the right choices and reduce overall fat intake, avoid trans fats, limit saturated fats and replace bad fats with good fats, such as olive oil and those found in whole grains, flax, hemp and chia seeds and some types of fish.
2. Increase the Fiber
Increasing soluble fiber intake by 5 to 10 grams per day can reduce your LDL cholesterol by about 5 percent. Fiber is beneficial for a number of reasons. It helps improve intestinal health, prevents heart disease and some cancers, reduces blood pressure, regulates blood sugar, and aids in weight control. High fiber foods include fruits, vegetables, whole-grain breads and cereals, nuts, and legumes such as dried beans, lentils, and peas. High fiber foods have the added benefit of increasing you HDL—the "good" cholesterol.
3. Get Your Exercise
By doing at least 30 minutes of exercise a day, you can decrease total cholesterol and improve "good" HDL cholesterol levels, but more importantly, lack of regular physical activity can raise LDL cholesterol levels and also lead to weight gain. Being overweight can decrease your HDL cholesterol. While 30 minutes a day may sound daunting at first, start with a goal of 10 minutes per day. Everyone has 10 minutes, and what better way to use it than to do something good for yourself?
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4. Cut Out the Processed Foods and Sweets
Eating processed foods and foods that are high in sugar increase triglycerides and cholesterol production. These foods can also be addictive—can you really just have one cookie? Once you reduce or eliminate these types of foods from your diet, you'll find that you crave healthier sweets like fruit.
5. Reduce Your Caffeine and Alcohol Consumption
Did you know that both caffeine and alcohol have been shown to elevate cholesterol? While some evidence shows that drinks like red wine can be good for your overall health, it’s a good idea to cut down on the quantity of alcoholic beverages you have each month. If you’re the type of person that needs your cup of coffee to get going in the morning, try eliminating the second cup and instead reaching for a glass of water.
6. Reduce Stress
Although it sounds easy enough to reduce stress, most of us struggle with this task in our daily lives. Since there is a link between excessive stress and cholesterol production, make a point to take some time for yourself—even if just ten minutes a day—to relax and reduce stress.
You can try a few minutes of meditation by finding a quiet spot and focusing on your breathing. Yoga or light stretching are also great ways to relieve the tension of your day.
7. Making Healthy Choices
There are many foods that will help on your quest to lower your cholesterol. Eating just 1 ½ cups of cooked oatmeal provides 6 grams of soluble fiber. Adding pears, bananas, or apples into it can add as much as 4 grams more.
Fatty fish like salmon and halibut can be heart healthy and help reduce cholesterol because of its high levels of omega-3 fatty acids. Foods high in omega-3s can reduce your blood pressure and risk of developing blood clots.
Walnuts, almonds and other nuts can reduce blood cholesterol. Rich in polyunsaturated fatty acids, walnuts also help keep blood vessels healthy. Eating about a handful (1.5 ounces, or 42.5 grams) a day of most nuts, such as almonds, hazelnuts, peanuts, pecans, some pine nuts, pistachio nuts and walnuts, may reduce your risk of heart disease.