How to Lower Your Cholesterol
By Tammie Jo
, last updated December 23, 2011
If you have family history of heart disease or currently have a cholesterol level over 200, you may be looking for ways to lower your cholesterol. Your body needs cholesterol and uses it as a protective coating for nerves, cells and some hormones, but being the amazing machine that it is, your body already produces all of the cholesterol it needs naturally through the liver. When you eat a diet rich in animal products, extra cholesterol builds up in the blood stream and can be fatal to your health.
Up with the Good, Down with the Bad
An overall cholesterol level of no more than 200 is considered healthy for most people, but that number is actually the combination of both “good” cholesterol, known as high-density lipoprotein (HDL) and “bad cholesterol,” or low-density lipoprotein (LDL). Simply lowering your total number may not be in your best interest. Before beginning a cholesterol-lowering regimen, you should understand the breakdown for each type of cholesterol. For optimal health, many people actually need to increase HDL levels while lowering their LDL.
Tips for Lowering LDL
In most cases, a LDL level of no more than 129 is considered healthy, but men over 45, women over 55, people who smoke, are overweight, have diabetes or high blood pressure and those who’ve already suffered one or more heart attacks are typically advised to keep their LDL level under 100.
Lowering your LDL number may require several changes in lifestyle and diet, but the good news is that not all of them will be difficult. In fact, many of the changes will be downright delicious. Start by adding the following five power foods to your diet. In correct portions, each is recommended by the Mayo Clinic to lower your LDL.
Olive oil, especially extra-virgin olive oil, contains a number of powerful antioxidants that work together to lower LDL levels without lowering HDL. Replace other types of fat like butter, bottled salad dressings and cooking oils high in saturated fat, with approximately 2 tablespoons of olive oil per day. Avoid olive oils that are marketed as “light.” Light olive oil isn’t lighter in fat or calories, only in color, and the light color is a result of additional processing.
Walnuts and some other types of nuts contain polyunsaturated fatty acids that help “clean” blood vessels and lower cholesterol. Eat approximately 1.5 ounces of raw, unsalted walnuts, peanuts, pistachios or almonds daily. Nuts are high in calories and are best used as a substitute for other foods that are high in saturated fat. For example, skip the cheese, croutons and fatty dressings and sprinkle a handful of nuts on a green salad. The added protein and heart-healthy fats will keep you satisfied.
High-fiber foods like oatmeal, apples, barley and kidney beans provide soluble fiber which can reduce the amount of cholesterol your bloodstream can absorb. A diet that includes at least five grams of soluble fiber per day may decrease your LDL.
Fatty fish is one fatty food you should be eating. Fish like salmon, mackerel, herring and halibut contain high levels of omega-3 fatty acids which are shown to lower cholesterol, reduce the risk of death from heart attack and reduce blood pressure. Eat fatty fish at least twice a week; grill, bake or steam it to without butter or additional oils. Remember, it’s already fatty. If you’re a fish-aphobe you can take an omega-3 supplement instead.
Incorporating these and other heart-healthy foods in your diet will help you accomplish one of the most important steps for lowering your cholesterol, weight loss. Losing even 5 or 10 pounds can contribute to achieving healthier cholesterol levels. Exercise, an important element in any sensible weight-loss plan, helps reduce LDL levels and raise HDL levels.
Tips for Raising HDL Levels
Having a HDL level of 60 or greater reduces the risk of heart disease according to FamilyDoctor.org, and a HDL level lower than 40 increases your risk.
It may seem unrelated, but quitting smoking is one of the most important things you can do to raise your HDL levels. Of course, there are many health benefits to smoking cessation, but if you’re a smoker who’s also struggling to maintain healthy cholesterol levels, you just got one more reason to quit.
Enjoy a glass of wine in moderation. That’s one daily drink for women and two for men or one for men and women over 65. Alcohol can give your HDL a boost.
People with high cholesterol are at greater risk for atherosclerosis, coronary artery disease, heart attack and stroke. By making a few relatively simple changes you can lower your risk for these life-threatening complications and add years to your life.