While it’s often presented as the worst thing for your health, your body needs cholesterol. In fact, it uses it to not only build healthy cells but it’s also needed for the synthesis of hormones as well as vitamin D.
However, as your doctor has likely told you, not all cholesterol is good for you and bad cholesterol, better known as LDL cholesterol, can increase your risk for heart disease, stroke as well as diabetes, and hypertension. In fact, a third of heart disease cases are attributed to high cholesterol, and high cholesterol is estimated to cause 2.6 million deaths.
Thankfully, high cholesterol can be reduced, as well as prevented so that you can continue to live a long and healthy life.
6 Ways To Lower Cholesterol
1. Eat heart-healthy fats
One of the most effective ways to improve your cholesterol levels is by looking at your diet and by eating more foods that not only reduce LDL cholesterol levels but also increase HDL cholesterol levels, which is also known as ‘good cholesterol’.
The Mediterranean diet is rich in monounsaturated fats, and these fats have been found to help raise HDL cholesterol. Additionally, one study found that the Mediterranean diet helped to significantly reduce LDL cholesterol levels.
Sources of monounsaturated fats include olive oil, nuts, and avocados, and conveniently, all three are staples of the Mediterranean diet.
2. Avoid trans fats
Trans fats are the worst fats that you can introduce your body to. So much so that in 2018, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) banned trans fats in processed foods in the United States, with the deadline being extended to January 1, 2020, to allow products already produced to work through distribution.
Additionally, the World Health Organization also has plans to eliminate trans fats from the global food supply. In 2020, the organization revealed that 58 countries so far have introduced laws that will protect 3.2 billion people from trans fats by the end of 2021.
As of now, some foods on the market may still contain some trans fats, which is why it’s so important to read food labels. Trans fats can be listed as “hydrogenated oils” or “partially hydrogenated vegetable oil” on food labels. You can also avoid foods like pastries, fried fast foods, pizzas as well as microwaveable popcorn.
3. Cut back on red meat
Red meat is quite high in saturated fats, and research has shown that this type of fat can raise your total cholesterol, so cutting back on your intake of red meat, as well as cakes, biscuits, and butter, can reduce your LDL levels.
Grilled chicken and fatty fish, as well as legumes, tofu, and other plant-based meats, are great alternatives to red meat.
4. Eat more soluble fiber
According to Harvard Health, following a diet that’s high in soluble fiber can help lower LDL cholesterol levels. A separate study published in Nutrients echoed these findings, sharing that dietary fiber can be used as a dietary change to lower total and LDL cholesterol.
Soluble fiber can be found in the following foods:
- Whole-grain bread
- Kidney beans
- Brussels sprouts
Exercise has a number of benefits for the body, and that includes improving cholesterol levels.
According to a 2019 study, moderate and vigorous physical activity helped increase HDL cholesterol levels. Therefore, you should do your best to exercise at least 30 minutes a day, five times a week.
6. Quit smoking
Need we say more? It’s smoking so you don’t really need much incentive to quit the tobacco habit, but we’re going to give you one anyway.
Smoking can raise levels of LDL cholesterol, all while reducing HDL cholesterol levels, so quitting the habit would be a great way to manage your cholesterol levels.
When to see a doctor
Lifestyle changes are great, but sometimes they may not be enough to lower cholesterol on their own. With that said, you may need extra assistance.
Your doctor may recommend medication to help lower your cholesterol, so it’s important to take it as prescribed while also maintaining your lifestyle changes.
Figueiró, T. H., Arins, G., Santos, C., Cembranel, F., et al. (2019). Association of objectively measured sedentary behavior and physical activity with cardiometabolic risk markers in older adults. PloS one, 14(1), e0210861. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0210861
Hernáez, Á., Castañer, O., Goday, A., Ros, E., et al. (2017). Mol. Nutr. Food Res. 61, 1601015. https://doi.org/10.1002/mnfr.201601015
Soliman G. A. (2019). Dietary Fiber, Atherosclerosis, and Cardiovascular Disease. Nutrients, 11(5), 1155. https://doi.org/10.3390/nu11051155