Cholesterol is worth getting worried about because excess bad cholesterol builds up as fatty deposits or “plaque” in your arteries. Plaque buildup reduces blood flow through your veins, making your heart work harder and increasing your risk of heart disease and stroke. Sound dismal? Don’t worry—you’re not doomed if you have high levels of LDL. For every one percent you lower your blood cholesterol level, you reduce your risk for heart disease by two percent! Read on to learn how to lower cholesterol naturally.
What is Cholesterol?
Cholesterol is a waxy substance produced by the liver and found in certain foods, is needed to make vitamin D and some hormones, build cell walls, and create bile salts that help you digest fat. Many different cells make cholesterol but cells in the liver make about a quarter of the total. Although many foods contain cholesterol, it is poorly absorbed by the gut into the body. Therefore, cholesterol that you eat in food has little effect on your body and blood cholesterol level. A certain amount of cholesterol is present in the bloodstream.
You need some cholesterol to keep healthy. Cholesterol is carried in the blood as part of particles called lipoproteins. There are different types of lipoproteins, but the most relevant to cholesterol are:
- Low-density lipoproteins carrying cholesterol – LDL cholesterol. This is often referred to as bad cholesterol. This is the one mainly involved in forming atheroma. Atheroma is the main underlying cause of various cardiovascular diseases. The majority of cholesterol in the blood is LDL cholesterol, but how much varies from person to person.
- High-density lipoproteins carrying cholesterol – HDL cholesterol. This is often referred to as good cholesterol. This may prevent atheroma forming.
Too much cholesterol in the body can lead to serious problems like heart disease. Many factors can contribute to high cholesterol, but the good news is there are things you can do to lower cholesterol.
Lowering Cholesterol Through Diet
Examine your diet. Most of the cholesterol you need is made by your body. However food products from animals contain additional cholesterol as well. The foods include meats, poultry, shellfish, eggs, butter, cheese, and milk. Any type of food that contains saturated or trans fat causes your body to make more cholesterol.
Get plenty of fiber. Soluble fiber reduces the amount of cholesterol absorbed into the bloodstream. When consumed daily, just 5 to 10 grams of fiber is usually enough to begin decreasing your cholesterol levels.
- Whole grains, fresh vegetables, and fresh fruits are generally among the best sources of soluble fiber.
- In particular, oatmeal, oat bran, dried beans, apples, pears, barley, prunes, eggplant, okra, strawberries, and citrus fruits are excellent choices.
- Fiber supplements are less than ideal, but they are better than nothing. If you take 2 tsp (10 ml) of psyllium fiber daily, you can provide you system with 4 grams of soluble fiber.
Keep your intake of fat between 25 and 35% of your daily calories. Limit your intake of cholesterol from food to less than 300 mg a day. If your cholesterol is high, the recommended amount is less than 200 mg per day.
- Polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fats are healthier fats that can actually help lower the bad cholesterol.
Choose fish over red meat. Fish and omega-3 fatty acid reduce blood pressure and the risk of blood clots. Doctors recommend having at least 2 servings of fish each week. The fish with the highest levels of omega-3 fatty acid are in mackerel, lake trout, herring, sardines, albacore tuna and salmon.
- To maintain the health benefits of fish, you’ll need to grill or bake the fish.
- If you don’t like fish, you can also get omega-3 fatty acids from foods like ground flaxseed or canola oil.
Eat a measured amount of nuts. Walnuts and almonds are rich in polyunsaturated fatty acids and have noted for keeping blood vessels healthy and elastic. Be careful not to eat too many nuts though. They are high in calories, so just one handful will be enough. As with any food, eating too much of it can make you overweight, and being overweight puts you at higher risk for heart disease. The key, just like with anything else, is to find a balance.
Eat complex carbohydrates. Eat whole wheat bread and brown rice instead of their white counter parts. This will raise your level of HDL cholesterol as well as lower your level of triglycerides, which are another cause of heart disease.
Look for foods with added sterols or stanols. These substances block cholesterol from being absorbed into the blood. Foods that are fortified with plant sterols or stanols can reduce your LDL cholesterol by more than 10 percent when you consume 2 grams or more daily.
- Sterols and stanols limit the body’s ability to absorb cholesterol.
- Food manufacturers add these plant products to foods like margarine, orange juice, yogurt drinks, granola bars, and chocolate.
Use olive oil every day. Olive oil contains antioxidants that can lower your LDL (“bad”) cholesterol without changing your HDL (“good”) cholesterol. The FDA recommends about 2 tablespoons, or 23 grams, of olive oil a day to benefit from its heart-healthy benefits. Some research suggests that the cholesterol-lowering effects of olive oil are even better if you choose extra-virgin olive oil.
Eat 6 small meals a day. A British study showed that those eating 6 small meals a day results in significantly lower cholesterol than those eating two meals a day—despite the fact that those eating the 6 small meals actually consumed more calories and fat.
Avoid saturated fats, trans fats, and dietary cholesterol. Foods that are high in these fats can raise your LDL cholesterol, so when you need to lower your cholesterol fast, you should cut as many of these fats out of your diet as possible.
- Saturated fat is a major culprit of elevated cholesterol. Foods high in saturated fats include butter, red meat, palm oil, coconut oil, and nearly all full-fat and low-fat dairy products.
- Trans fats, usually listed as hydrogenated or partially hydrogenated fat, lower good HDL cholesterol while raising bad LDL cholesterol. These fats are usually found in processed foods, fast food meals, and other pre-packaged foods.
- Dietary cholesterol is not as harmful as doctors once thought, but while the occasional consumption makes little difference, having too many foods rich in dietary cholesterol can cause your LDL cholesterol to rise up. Dietary cholesterol can be found in egg yolks, organ meats, and shellfish.
Eat garlic. Garlic is an excellent substance to add to your diet to keep your cholesterol levels at a reasonable number. It can reduce cholesterol levels without causing any side effects, in addition to preventing blood clots, reducing blood pressure, and protecting against infections. Although it is best to take it in raw form, it is equally efficacious in other forms like pickles.
- Next time you hit the supermarket, pick up a tub of freshly peeled garlic cloves, and challenge yourself to make sure it’s gone before the “best by” date. Chop up and toss on pizza, in soups, or on side dishes.
Lowering Cholesterol Through Lifestyle Changes
Exercise daily. Physical inactivity is a major risk factor for heart disease. Regular exercise affects blood cholesterol level because your blood pumps faster and the HDL cholesterol in your blood carries away the LDL cholesterol from your arteries. Physical activity can also help control some of the other risks of heart disease, such as being overweight, diabetes, and high blood pressure. The American Heart Association recommends getting at least 30 minutes of physical activity every day.
- If you don’t have time to exercise regularly, get up from your desk take a 5 minute walk every hour.
Lose weight. It doesn’t have to be a lot, either. If you lose just 5 to 10% of your weight, your cholesterol levels could reduce greatly. Not to mention the scads of other health benefits!
- Watch your calories. There are no ifs, ands, or buts about it: An increased caloric intake will lead to weight gain. Keep a balanced diet of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, lean meats and low-fat dairy. Stick to good fats (like the ones in avocados, nuts, and olive oil) and cut out the processed junk.
- Try to incorporate activity into your daily endeavors. Opt for the stairs instead of the elevator, make taking the dog for a walk a pre-dinner activity, and bike to do an errand or two. Exercise doesn’t always have to be a formal “workout” session if your schedule or body doesn’t allow for it.
Use paper coffee filters. Kahweol and cafestol are two substances found in brewed coffee that increase LDL levels. However, paper filters trap these substances so you do not consume them.
Drink green tea. Green tea has been found to have many heath benefits, the ability to lower LDL and raise HDL levels among them. Green tea also prevents your intestines from absorbing cholesterol and thus facilitates its excretion from your body. Studies have also shown that black tea can help promote a healthy heart.
Drink red wine. Drinking one (if you are a woman) or two (if you are a man) glasses of red wine a day has been shown to raise levels of “good” HDL cholesterol. However, there are also many health problems associated with alcohol, so drink in moderation.
Quit smoking. Another crucial action you must take to lower your “bad” cholesterol is to quit smoking. Smoking will lower your “good” cholesterol while leaving the bad sort unaffected, and it can also make staying active much more difficult.
- While smoking does not directly affect LDL cholesterol, the fact that your “good” HDL cholesterol gets lowered puts you at further risk of heart disease. Moreover, smoking makes it more difficult to exercise, so you will be less likely to accomplish the sort of exercise needed in order to quickly lower your LDL cholesterol unless you stop smoking.
Lowering Cholesterol Through Medication
Find the source. Cholesterol comes from eating foods high in saturated fats, such as meat, high-fat dairy, and eggs. Reducing your intake of these foods can help you cut your overall cholesterol levels. However some people are simply genetically prone to higher levels of cholesterol than others. These people may experience cholesterol problems despite proper diet and exercise.
Ask your doctor. There are prescription drugs that have been shown to help reduce cholesterol, especially for people who are genetically prone to high levels. Talk to your doctor about these drugs. He or she may want you to try to make diet and lifestyle changes before going on medication. Depending on the level of your LDL cholesterol and your other risk factors for cardiovascular disease, your doctor may decide that you need to start taking medication at the same time you start making lifestyle changes.