Cholesterol is a waxy, fatlike substance produced by the liver. It is found in every cell of the body. Some people produce too much. High cholesterol can cause deposits, or plaque, to form inside the arteries and block blood flow, increasing the risk of a heart attack and stroke.
A blood test is the only way to detect cholesterol levels. Everyone older than 20 should get a cholesterol test at least once every five years.
There are two types of cholesterol:
LDL cholesterol: This is "bad" cholesterol. A lower number is linked to a lower heart attack risk.
HDL cholesterol: "Good" cholesterol appears to protect your heart. A higher number is linked to a lower heart attack risk.
Normal: less than 200 mg/dL
Borderline high: 200-239 mg/dL
High: 240 mg/dL and up
Normal: less than 100 mg/dL
Borderline high: 100-129 mg/dL
High: 130 mg/dL and higher
Normal: 60 mg/dL and higher
Borderline low: 40-59 mg/dL
Low: 40 mg/dL and lower
Normal: less than 150 mg/dL
Borderline high: 150-199 mg/dL
High: 200 mg/dL and higher
So what causes high cholesterol? Unfortunately, there are some risk factors you cannot control, such as:
Age and gender: As you age, your cholesterol levels rise. After menopause, women's LDL levels tend to rise.
Heredity: High cholesterol can be passed on. If high cholesterol runs in the family, you're at greater risk.
Risk factors for high cholesterol you can control include:
Weight: Being overweight can increase cholesterol levels.
Exercise: If you're looking for specific ways for how to reduce LDL cholesterol, regular physical activity can lower LDL and raise HDL.
Type 2 diabetes: High blood glucose increases cholesterol levels and damages the lining of your arteries.
Smoking: Cigarette smoking lowers HDL and increases the likelihood of blood clots.
Medications: Certain medications can increase your cholesterol. Talk to your doctor about any medications you are taking.
Making the change to a healthful diet is the first step to naturally lowering cholesterol. Most important: Limit the amount of saturated fat and cholesterol in your diet.
Foods to avoid if you have high cholesterol include:
-Whole milk, cream, and ice cream
-Butter, egg yolks, and cheese (and foods made with them)
-Organ meats, such as liver, sweetbreads, and kidney
-High-fat processed meats, such as sausage, bologna, salami, and hot dogs
-Fatty meats that aren't trimmed
-Duck and goose meat (raised for market)
-Baked goods made with egg yolks and saturated fats
-Saturated fats, including coconut oil, palm oil, and palm kernel oil
-Solid fats, such as shortening, partially hydrogenated margarine, and lard
Just as some foods increase cholesterol, others help lower it. Eat these foods to lower cholesterol:
-Fruits and vegetables: 8-10 daily servings, especially high-fiber items such as beans and peas
-"Good fat" fish (e.g., salmon): 2 or more servings per week
-Whole grains: 6 or more daily servings
-Nuts and seeds: 4-5 servings per week
-Nonfat and low-fat dairy: 2-3 daily servings
-Lean meat and poultry without skin: 5-6 ounces daily
-Unsaturated vegetable oils: including canola, corn, olive, safflower, and soybean oils (but limit the amount of margarines and spreads made from them)
There's no need for a cholesterol-lowering diet to be bland and boring! Try some of our low cholesterol recipes. They're full of heart-healthy oils and fats, antioxidant-packed berries, and fiber-rich foods.
It's not just your grocery list that can help reduce cholesterol levels—your cooking method matters, too.
-Use a rack to drain fat when you broil, roast, or bake.
-Broil or grill instead of panfrying.
-Cut visible fat from meat before cooking, and remove skin from poultry pieces. (If you're roasting a whole chicken or turkey, remove the skin after cooking.)
Try these tips and tricks to make your favorite recipes into low cholesterol recipes:
-Make recipes or egg dishes with egg whites or egg substitutes, not yolks.
-Instead of regular cheese, use low-fat cottage cheese, part-skim milk mozzarella, and other fat-free or low-fat cheeses.
-Use vegetable oil spray to brown or sauté food.
-Don't bake with drippings; use wine, fruit juice, or marinade.
Portion sizes are notoriously large in America. By balancing your portions, you can help control your cholesterol and lose weight at the same time.
Serve smaller portions of higher-fat dishes, and serve bigger portions of lower-fat dishes, such as rice, beans, and vegetables.
Flaxseed can help reduce total cholesterol and LDL cholesterol levels. Flaxseed oil contains omega-3 fatty acids, but it doesn't have the beneficial fiber that the seeds have.
Ways to include flaxseed in your diet:
-Add a tablespoon of ground flaxseed to your hot or cold breakfast cereal.
-Add a teaspoon of ground flaxseed to mayonnaise or mustard when making a sandwich.
-Mix a tablespoon of ground flaxseed into an 8-ounce container of yogurt.
-Bake ground flaxseed into cookies, muffins, breads, and other baked goods.
Soluble fiber is a way to use food to lower cholesterol. It helps cut back on LDL cholesterol by reducing its absorption in the intestines.
Soluble fiber can be found in:
"If you use [plant sterols] on a daily basis as directed, you can reduce your cholesterol by up to 10 percent," says Anne Carol Goldberg, M.D., an associate professor of medicine in the division of endocrinology, metabolism, and lipid research at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis.
Plant sterols, or phytosterols, are tasteless, odorless substances found in fruits, vegetables, legumes, nuts, seeds, and other plant sources.
When incorporated into fat-containing foods like margarine spreads (i.e., Benecol, Take Control) or yogurt, our bodies can utilize them to lower levels of LDL cholesterol. They even work in conjunction with prescription statin drugs.
A plan for how to lower cholesterol should include exercise. Studies show that exercising up to three times a week for 30 minutes can reduce LDL cholesterol, elevate HDL cholesterol, and lower your risk of serious heart complications.
Walking is one of the best ways to get physical activity because it's low-impact and requires little equipment. Here's how to sneak in extra steps:
-Use the stairs instead of the elevator or escalator.
-Park farther away from your destination.
-Walk to your coworker's office or cubicle instead of calling or sending an email.
-Take your dog out for a stroll.
-Buy a pedometer to motivate yourself and keep track of your progress.
If you think most fitness activities are a chore or you have been out of the gym for a little too long, there are other ways to get in shape. As a bonus, these are things that are probably on your to-do list anyway!
Some no-sweat exercise ideas include:
-Marching in place while watching TV.
-Planting and watering flowers in your garden.
-Washing your car.
-Mowing the lawn.
-Scrubbing the floors.
-Dusting and vacuuming.
We've covered how to lower cholesterol without medication. But if a low cholesterol diet and exercise aren't enough to bring it under control, your doctor may prescribe one of the following supplements to lower cholesterol:
Statins block the effects of an enzyme that helps produce cholesterol. They also lower LDL cholesterol, lower triglycerides, and boost HDL cholesterol. (Crestor, Lescol, Lipitor, Mevacor, Pravachol, Zocor)
Niacin lowers LDL cholesterol and triglycerides while raising HDL cholesterol. (Niacor, Niaspan, Nicolar)
Bile acid resins stick to cholesterol in the intestines and prevent it from being absorbed. (Colestid, Lo-Cholest, Prevalite, Questran, WelChol)
Ezetimibe decreases the body's cholesterol absorption. When combined with a statin, ezetimibe may enhance the cholesterol-lowering effects. (Zetia)
Fibrates mainly reduce triglycerides and may also increase HDL levels. They have less of an affect on LDL cholesterol than other medications. (Atromid, Lopid, Tricor)