Lifestyle changes can help reduce cholesterol, keep you off cholesterol-lowering medications or enhance the effect of your medications. Here are five lifestyle changes to get you started.
High cholesterol increases your risk of heart disease and heart attacks. You can improve cholesterol with medications, but if you'd rather first make lifestyle changes to improve your cholesterol, try these five healthy changes. If you already take medications, these changes can improve their cholesterol-lowering effect.
1. Eat heart-healthy foods
Even if you have years of unhealthy eating under your belt, making a few changes in your diet can reduce cholesterol and improve your heart health.
- Choose healthier fats. Saturated fats, found primarily in red meat and dairy products, raise your total cholesterol and low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol, the "bad" cholesterol. As a rule, you should get less than 7 percent of your daily calories from saturated fat. Choose leaner cuts of meat, low-fat dairy and monounsaturated fats — found in olive and canola oils — for healthier options.
- Eliminate trans fats. Trans fats affect cholesterol levels by increasing the "bad" cholesterol and lowering the "good" cholesterol. This bad combination increases the risk of heart attacks. Trans fats can be found in fried foods and many commercial products, such as cookies, crackers and snack cakes. But don't rely on packages that are labeled "trans fat-free." In the United States, if a food contains less than 0.5 grams of trans fat in a serving, it can be labeled "trans fat-free."
Even small amounts of trans fat can add up if you eat foods that contain small amounts of trans fat. Read the ingredient list, and avoid foods with partially hydrogenated oils.
- Eat foods rich in omega-3 fatty acids. Omega-3 fatty acids don't affect LDL cholesterol. They have other heart benefits, such as helping to increase high-density lipoprotein (HDL, or "good") cholesterol, reducing your triglycerides, a type of fat in your blood, and reducing blood pressure. Some types of fish — such as salmon, mackerel and herring — are rich in omega-3 fatty acids. Other good sources of omega-3 fatty acids include walnuts, almonds and ground flaxseeds.
- Increase soluble fiber. There are two types of fiber — soluble and insoluble. Both have heart-health benefits, but soluble fiber also helps lower your LDL levels. You can add soluble fiber to your diet by eating oats and oat bran, fruits, beans, lentils, and vegetables.
- Add whey protein. Whey protein is one of two proteins in dairy products — the other is casein. Whey protein may account for many of the health benefits attributed to dairy. Studies have shown that whey protein given as a supplement lowers both LDL and total cholesterol.
You can find whey protein powders in health food stores and some grocery stores. Follow the package directions for how to use them.
2. Exercise on most days of the week and increase your physical activity
Exercise can improve cholesterol. Moderate physical activity can help raise high-density lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol, the "good" cholesterol. With your doctor's OK, work up to at least 30 minutes of exercise a day.
Adding physical activity, even in 10-minute intervals several times a day, can help you begin to lose weight. Just be sure that you can keep up the changes you decide to make. Consider:
- Taking a brisk daily walk during your lunch hour
- Riding your bike to work
- Swimming laps
- Playing a favorite sport
To stay motivated, find an exercise buddy or join an exercise group. And remember, any activity is helpful. Even taking the stairs instead of the elevator or doing a few situps while watching television can make a difference.
3. Quit smoking
If you smoke, stop. Quitting might improve your HDL cholesterol level. And the benefits don't end there.
Within 20 minutes of quitting, your blood pressure and heart rate decrease. Within one year, your risk of heart disease is half that of a smoker. Within 15 years, your risk of heart disease is similar to someone who never smoked.
4. Lose weight
Carrying even a few extra pounds contributes to high cholesterol. Losing as little as 5 to 10 percent of your weight can improve cholesterol levels.
Start by evaluating your eating habits and daily routine. Consider your challenges to weight loss and ways to overcome them.
Small changes add up. If you eat when you're bored or frustrated, take a walk instead. If you pick up fast food for lunch every day, pack something healthier from home. For snacks, munch on carrot sticks or air-popped popcorn instead of potato chips. Don't eat mindlessly.
And look for ways to incorporate more activity into your daily routine, such as using the stairs instead of taking the elevator or parking farther from your office.
5. Drink alcohol only in moderation
Moderate use of alcohol has been linked with higher levels of HDL cholesterol — but the benefits aren't strong enough to recommend alcohol for anyone who doesn't already drink. If you drink alcohol, do so in moderation. For healthy adults, that means up to one drink a day for women of all ages and men older than age 65, and up to two drinks a day for men age 65 and younger.
Too much alcohol can lead to serious health problems, including high blood pressure, heart failure and stroke.
If lifestyle changes aren't enough ...
Sometimes healthy lifestyle changes aren't enough to lower cholesterol levels. Make sure the changes you make are ones you can continue to do, and don't be disappointed if you don't see results immediately. If your doctor recommends medication to help lower your cholesterol, take it as prescribed, but continue your lifestyle changes. Lifestyle changes can help you keep your medication dose low.
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12 Way How To Lower Cholesterol Naturally With 12 Food
If you're already eating plenty of the following foods that lower cholesterol naturally, keep up the good work! But if your idea of eating well is to opt for the "buttered popcorn" instead of the "extra buttered popcorn," consider adding these healthy choices to your diet.
If you're looking to lower your cholesterol, the key may be simply changing your morning meal. Switching up your breakfast to contain two servings of oats can lower LDL ("bad") cholesterol by 5.3% in only 6 weeks. The key to this cholesterol buster is beta-glucan, a substance in oats that absorbs LDL, which your body then excretes. Banish bland oats with this dessert-worthy ginergersnap oatmeal recipe.
Scientists are giving us yet another reason to drink to our health. It turns out that high-fiber Tempranillo red grapes, used to make red wine like Rioja, may actually significantly lower cholesterol levels. A study conducted by the department of metabolism and nutrition at Universidad Complutense de Madrid in Spain found that when individuals consumed the same grape supplement found in red wine, their LDL levels decreased by 9%. In addition, those who had high cholesterol going into the study saw a 12% drop in LDL. So go ahead and drink a glass for that cholesterol-lowering benefit.
Salmon & fatty fish
Omega-3 fats are one of the natural health wonders of the world and have been shown to ward off heart disease, dementia, and many other diseases. Now these fatty acids can add yet another health benefit to their repertoire: lowering cholesterol. According to research from Loma Linda University, replacing saturated fats with omega-3s like those found in salmon, sardines, and herring can raise good cholesterol as much as 4%. (Here's everything you need to know about buying the healthiest fish possible.)
If you're looking for a snack food that lowers cholesterol levels, research shows that you should get cracking! In a study published by the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, people who noshed on 1.5 oz of whole walnuts 6 days a week for 1 month lowered their total cholesterol by 5.4% and LDL cholesterol by 9.3%. Almonds and cashews are other good options. However, while nuts are heart healthy, they're also high in calories, so practice portion control—1.5 oz is about a shot glass and a half. Use a shot glass to measure out your portion so you can see exactly how it looks. (Here's what happens if you eat too many nuts.)
While tea has become well known for its cancer-fighting antioxidants, it is also a great defense against high LDL cholesterol levels. According to research conducted with the USDA, black tea has been shown to reduce blood lipids by up to 10% in only 3 weeks. These findings were concluded in a larger study of how tea may also help reduce the risk of coronary heart disease. (Here's how to make the perfect cup of tea every time.)
Beans, beans—they really are good for your heart. Researchers at Arizona State University Polytechnic found that adding ½ cup of beans to soup lowers total cholesterol, including LDL, by up to 8%. The key to this heart-healthy food is its abundance of fiber, which has been shown to slow the rate and amount of absorption of cholesterol in certain foods. Try black, kidney, or pinto beans; each supplies about one-third of your daily fiber needs.
Yes! This powerful antioxidant helps build HDL ("good") cholesterol levels. In a 2007 study published in AJCN, participants who were given cocoa powder had a 24% increase in HDL levels over 12 weeks, compared with a 5% increase in the control group. Remember to choose the dark or bittersweet kind. Compared to milk chocolate, it has more than 3 times as many antioxidants, which prevent blood platelets from sticking together and may even keep arteries unclogged.
Switching to a margarine with plant sterols, such as Promise activ or Benecol, could help lower cholesterol. Plant sterols are compounds that reduce cholesterol absorption; a study published in AJCN found that women who had a higher plant sterol–based diet were able to lower total cholesterol by 3.5%.
Aside from adding zing to almost any dish, garlic makes the list of foods that lower cholesterol; it's also been found to prevent blood clots, reduce blood pressure, and protect against infections. Now research finds that it helps stop artery-clogging plaque at its earliest stage by keeping cholesterol particles from sticking to artery walls. Try for 2 to 4 fresh cloves a day.
Good news: This common cooking ingredient can help your health. Olive oil is full of heart-healthy monounsaturated fatty acids (MUFAs), which lower LDL cholesterol—and have the welcome side effect of trimming belly fat. Use it to make your own salad dressings, marinate chicken and fish, or roast vegetables.
This popular green food contains lots of lutein, the sunshine-yellow pigment found in dark green leafy vegetables and egg yolks. Lutein already has a reputation for guarding against age-related macular degeneration, a leading cause of blindness. Now research suggests that just ½ cup of a lutein-rich food daily also guards against heart attacks by helping artery walls "shrug off" cholesterol invaders that cause clogging. Look for bags of baby spinach leaves that you can use for salads or pop in the microwave for a quick side dish.
Avocados are a great source of heart-healthy MUFAs, which may actually help raise HDL cholesterol while lowering LDL. And, more than any other fruit, this delectable food packs cholesterol-smashing beta-sitosterol, a beneficial plant-based fat that reduces the amount of cholesterol absorbed from food. Since avocados are a bit high in calories and fat (300 calories and 30 g of fat per avocado), use them in moderation.
11 Tips to Cut Your Cholesterol Fast
If you have high cholesterol, you’re also at higher risk for heart disease. But the good news is, it’s a risk you can control. You can lower your “bad” LDL cholesterol and raise your “good” HDL cholesterol. You just have to make some simple changes.
“I tell patients that you have to start somewhere and just keep going,” says Suzanne Steinbaum, DO, an attending cardiologist at Lenox Hill Hospital in New York City. “As you adopt lifestyle changes, everything starts shifting, and the improvements you see at 6 weeks often increase by 3 months.”
You still may need to take medicine to get your cholesterol back on track. But if you make just a few, small changes, you might be able to lower your dose and chance of side effects.
Follow these tips to cut your cholesterol and get back on the road to good health.
1. Ban Trans Fats
“They raise your LDL, lower your HDL, and increase your risk of developing heart disease and stroke,” Steinbaum says. But it’s hard to avoid them. They’re found in fried foods, baked goods (cakes, pie crusts, frozen pizza, and cookies), and stick margarines.
That’s why the FDA is taking steps to remove them from the food supply. How can you avoid them in the meantime? When you go shopping, read the labels. But be careful if you see “partially hydrogenated oil” on the package. That’s just a fancy name for trans fat.
2. Scale Back
You don’t have to lose a lot of weight to lower your cholesterol. If you’re overweight, drop just 10 pounds and you’ll cut your LDL by up to 8%. But to really keep off the pounds, you’ll have to do it over time. A reasonable and safe goal is 1 to 2 pounds a week. Eating plans that allow 1,000 to 1,200 calories a day will help most women lose weight safely. Plans with 1,200 to 1,600 calories a day are good for most men who want to lose weight.
3. Get Moving
“Exercising at least 2 1/2 hours a week is enough to raise HDL and improve LDL and triglycerides,” says Sarah Samaan, MD, a cardiologist in Plano, TX. If you haven’t been active, start slowly -- even 10-minute blocks of activity count. Choose an exercise you enjoy. And buddy up: An exercise partner can help keep you on track.
4. Fill Up on Fiber
Foods like oatmeal, apples, prunes, and beans are high in soluble fiber, which keeps your body from absorbing cholesterol. Research shows that people who ate 5 to 10 more grams of it each day saw a drop in their LDL. Eating more fiber also makes you feel full, so you won’t crave snacks as much. But beware: Too much fiber at one time can cause abdominal cramps or bloating. Increase your intake slowly.
5. Go Fish
Try to eat it two to four times a week. “Not only are the omega-3 fats in fish heart-healthy, but replacing red meat with fish will lower your cholesterol by reducing your exposure to saturated fats, which are abundant in red meat,” Samaan says. The catch? Some types, like shark, swordfish, and king mackerel, are high in mercury. That can increase your risk for heart disease. Instead, choose wild salmon, sardines, and bluefin tuna.
6. Opt for Olive Oil
“Substituting olive oil for butter may reduce LDL cholesterol by as much as 15%, which is similar to the effect of a low dose of medication,” Samaan says. 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.
7. Go Nuts
Most types can lower LDL. The reason: They contain sterols, which, like fiber, keep the body from absorbing cholesterol, Steinbaum says. Just don’t go overboard: Nuts are high in calories (an ounce of almonds packs 164!).
8. Chill Out
Did you know that when you’re stressed, your cholesterol can go through the roof? Relax. Get lost in a good book, meet a friend for coffee, or take to your yoga mat. It’ll help keep your cholesterol in check.
9. Spice It Up
If you don’t already dust your cappuccino with cinnamon or shake pepper on your pasta, listen up: Spices like garlic, curcumin, ginger, black pepper, coriander, and cinnamon do more than flavor your food, they can also improve cholesterol. Research shows that eating a half to one clove of garlic each day could lower cholesterol up to 9%. Bonus: Adding extra seasoning to your food also reduces your appetite, so it’s easier to drop excess pounds, Steinbaum says.
10. Butt Out
“Smoking can raise LDL and lower HDL, and quitting often improves those numbers,” Samaan says. In one study, people who stopped smoking saw their “good” cholesterol rise 5% in one year. But if you’re regularly around smokers, take heed: Breathing secondhand smoke every day can also raise levels of bad cholesterol.
11. Laugh More
Laughter is like medicine: It increases HDL, Steinbaum says. Need to add some comic relief to your life? Check out silly pet videos online, sign up for a joke-a-day email, or watch funny movies.