High cholesterol is among the leading causes of heart disease. And heart disease is the number one killer of American women and men. According to the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute, more than one million Americans suffer a heart attack each year, and nearly half a million people in the United States die from heart disease annually.
There are two types of cholesterol: LDL (bad) and HDL (good). The higher the LDL, the greater the risk of heart disease; the higher the HDL, the lower the risk of heart disease. When cholesterol is high, oxygen-rich blood can’t get to the heart.
Luckily, it’s possible to change your cholesterol levels through lifestyle changes. The following are some common steps to take when reducing cholesterol.
1. Replace white with wheat. Next time you’re at the grocery store, keep this mantra at the front of your mind. Replace white pasta and bread with whole grain options; opt for oatmeal in the morning. Doing so can significantly increase healthy HDL levels. Whole wheat has the added benefit of giving the body a fiber boost.
2. Opt for smaller meals. How you eat is equally important as what you eat. A British study that found people who eat 6- 7 small meals daily, as opposed to 3 big meals, have lower cholesterol and a 10% to 20% reduced risk of coronary heart disease.
3. Make exercise a priority. Diet alone won’t cut it. It’s recommended to get up to 3 hours of aerobic exercise such as fast walking per week. For each session, try keeping your heart rate up at an elevated level for at least 20 minutes. This process helps reduce the bad LDL cholesterol.
4. Eat fish instead of red meat. Foods high in omega 3-fatty acids lower bad LDL cholesterol levels. Salmon, mackerel, and herring, as well as walnuts, almonds, and flaxseeds are rich in omega 3-fatty acids.
5. Be at a healthy weight. If you are overweight, getting back to healthy weight levels will help keep cholesterol in check. If you are already in the healthy range but still have high cholesterol, you’ll want to focus on diet modification and exercise.
6. Eat “good” fats. Keeping cholesterol in check doesn’t mean you need to avoid all fats entirely. Instead, avoid the bad fats in processed foods, fried foods, or red meat. Focus on good fats that are in nuts, olive oil, fish, and avocado.
7. Read nutrition labels. Avoid trans fats commonly found in baked goods, frozen pizza, coffee creamer, and refrigerated dough. Don’t get fooled by packaging. Be sure to read nutrition labels from the products you buy, and avoid items that have “partially hydrogenated” in the ingredients list (even if they say 0% transfat).
8. Watch your sugar intake. Sugar levels directly triglyceride levels, and higher triglyceride levels are associated with increased risk of heart disease.
9. Avoid eating out. Restaurants are incentivized to make food taste good versus actually being good for you. Thus they typically are high in butter, cream, and all the bad fats. If you must eat out, opt for healthier choices like salad, and get the sauce or dressing on the side.
10. Reduce stress. Increased stress can also impact your cholesterol levels. Give yourself room each week to relax. Try yoga, meditation, or music to manage your stress levels.
11. Consult your doctor. Each person’s health situation is different. Family history, age, and other factors can impact what choices you’ll want to make. Be sure to consult your doctor before implementing major lifestyle changes. Depending on your situation, your doctor might even recommend prescription medication to reduce your cholesterol.