If you want to know how to lower cholesterol and improve your heart health, you’ve come to the right place. High cholesterol can be caused by many factors, from family history to unhealthy eating and lack of exercise, and smoking and alcohol also play a part. Although there are no symptoms of high cholesterol (you can only find out you have it through a blood test), the risks are serious, and include heart disease, heart attack and stroke. To reduce this risk, there are healthy lifestyle changes you can make and we’ve rounded them up for you here.
What is Cholesterol?
Cholesterol is a waxy, fat-like substance found in your blood. Your body needs cholesterol to build cells and make vitamins and other hormones, but too much cholesterol can lead to serious problems. Cholesterol comes from two sources- your liver makes all the cholesterol you need and the remainder of the cholesterol comes from food animal sources like meat, poultry, seafood, eggs and dairy products.
Some of these foods are also high in saturated and trans fats, which can cause your liver to make more cholesterol than it otherwise would. This can cause you to go from normal cholesterol levels to levels that are unhealthy. High levels of low-density lipoprotein (LDL) or “bad” cholesterol can lead to plaque build up in your arteries, restricting the blood flow to your heart and brain and increasing your risk of heart disease and stroke. High-density lipoprotein (HDL) or “good” cholesterol can lower your risk of heart disease and stroke.
What Are the Dangers of High Cholesterol?
- Narrowing of the arteries
- Heart disease
- Heart attack or heart failure
- Transient ischaemic attack (TIA) or “mini stroke”
- Peripheral artery disease (PAD)
Who is At Risk for High Cholesterol?
Unhealthy cholesterol levels can affect those of all ages, however, it’s most commonly diagnosed in people between the ages of 40 and 59. As you get older, your liver doesn’t remove “bad” cholesterol as well as it did when you were young. Having diabetes or high blood pressure can increase your risk of high cholesterol, as can having a family history of stroke or heart disease.
What Causes High Cholesterol?
- Poor diet (especially eating foods high in saturated and trans fats)
- Lack of exercise – exercise helps boost your body’s “good” cholesterol
- Smoking – can lower your levels of “good” cholesterol
- Obesity – increases triglycerides and “bad” cholesterol
- Drinking alcohol – increases triglycerides and increases blood pressure
How to Lower Cholesterol: 7 Lifestyle Changes
1. Focus on a Healthy Diet
If you have high cholesterol, chances are you need to make some changes to your diet. Reduce your intake of saturated and trans fat- this means limiting foods like meat and dairy, as well as processed foods like baked goods, breakfast cereals, chips, frozen foods, pizza, cookies, packaged breads and processed meats. Focus on healthy whole foods like fruits and vegetables, whole grains, beans, nuts, and fatty fish. Here’s a round up of the foods you should avoid and ones you should eat for healthy cholesterol levels.
2. Reduce Saturated Fat in Meat and Poultry
Meat and poultry are part of a healthy diet as they contain lots of protein, but eat smart when you use them in recipes. Select lean cuts of meat with minimal visible fat (lean beef cuts include round, sirloin or loin, and lean pork cuts include tenderloin or loin chop). Select lean or extra lean ground beef, and eat chicken and turkey rather than duck or goose, which are higher in fat. Trim all visible fat from meat before cooking and remove the skin from chicken and turkey before cooking. Also, make sure to limit processed meats like sausage, salami and hot dogs as much as possible.
3. Increase Your Physical Activity
Exercise increases your levels of good cholesterol and removes bad cholesterol from the blood. Vigorous aerobic exercise (jogging or running, playing tennis, swimming laps, riding a bike fast or on hills) is best. Of course, if you haven’t been exercising much, gradually build up your level of intensity. Resistance training, using weights or your own body weight, and muscle toning-exercises can increase good cholesterol, so aim to do these twice a week.
4. Eat More Fish and Less Meat
Fish can be fatty or lean, but it’s low in saturated fat. It’s also an amazing source of vitamins, minerals, and omega-3 fatty acids. Oily fish like salmon, trout and herring are especially high in these good-for-you fats. Seafood like shrimp and lobster are low in saturated fats and a good alternative to meat and poultry. Try to eat meat sparingly throughout the week. Replace it with vegetables and beans, with meals like eggplant lasagna and bean based power bowls. In fact, here’s 30 days of cholesterol-friendly recipes you can try.
5. Limit Your Alcohol Intake
Alcohol can increase your triglyceride levels, which along with LDL cholesterol, can raise your risk of heart disease. Excess alcohol consumption also increases blood pressure and can lead to obesity, which both put you at additional risk for heart disease. Try to limit your alcohol intake as much as possible and consider saving it for special occasions. Get acquainted with mocktail recipes instead.
6. Give Up Smoking
If you’re a smoker, here’s yet another reason to quit. Smoking reduces HDL cholesterol and speeds up the rate in which plaque forms in your artery walls. It also makes your blood more likely to clot. These factors increase your risk of heart disease and stroke. Quitting smoking is one of the best ways you can lower your cholesterol and improve your heart health overall.
7. Increase Your Soluble Fibre Intake
Soluble fibre easily dissolves in water and is found in foods like fruits, vegetables, whole grains, oatmeal and legumes. It can reduce the amount of cholesterol absorbed into your bloodstream (5 to 10 grams of soluble fibre per day decreases your levels of LDL cholesterol). Soluble fibre also draws water into your gut, softening your stool and supporting regular bowel movements.
If you have high cholesterol, start making these lifestyle changes today to get your heart health back on track!
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