High cholesterol is a major risk factor for heart disease, the leading cause of death in the United States. This waxy substance isn’t a villain, however. Your body needs cholesterol to function properly. The goal is to maintain a healthy balance of cholesterol levels to keep your heart healthy and lower your risk of heart disease.
Board-certified family medicine physician Dr. Leela Patel encourages patients to make their heart health a priority. Fortunately, there are things you can do to protect your heart and keep your cardiovascular system as healthy as possible. Every year more than 800,000 Americans have a heart attack. Taking steps now to reduce your risk can save your life.
Cholesterol is a fat-like substance found in every cell in your body. You need some cholesterol to make certain hormones, vitamin D, and digestive juices to help you absorb food. When you take a cholesterol test, your doctor will check the total amount of cholesterol in your blood, as well as the level of low-density lipoprotein (LDL) and high-density lipoprotein (HDL).
LDL deposits cholesterol in your tissues and organs, so it’s best to keep it on the lower side. HDL on the other hand removes cholesterol from the blood and transports it to the liver for elimination, thereby helping to lower overall cholesterol levels.
When the amount of cholesterol circulating in your blood remains elevated, over time it accumulates in your arteries and sticks to your artery walls. This narrows your arteries, reducing blood flow. Cholesterol can clump together and block blood flow completely, causing a heart attack.
If you’re concerned about your cholesterol levels, try these five tips to lower your cholesterol.
#1: Lower your saturated fat intake
Saturated fat in the diet is most strongly linked to increasing LDL cholesterol, the kind that you want to keep on the lower end of the spectrum. What foods have saturated fat? Lots of them! But the main culprits that you should aim to cut back on are:
- Fatty cuts of meat
- Cured meats (salami, chorizo, etc)
- Commercially baked goods
- Fast food
- Certain oils (palm oil, butter, lard)
Focusing on fresh and frozen vegetables, fruits, whole grains, beans, legumes, and lean meats is one of the best ways to cut back on saturated fat.
#2: Get moving
Exercise stimulates an enzyme that helps remove LDL cholesterol from the blood and transports it to the liver for elimination. This is one of the ways getting plenty of physical activity lowers cholesterol levels. Exercise also strengthens the heart, making it more efficient at pumping blood throughout the body, which lowers blood pressure — another way exercise promotes heart health.
You don’t have to become a slave to the gym to reap benefits. Aim to get at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise each week. Choose activities that you enjoy. This could be tennis, biking, or swimming. As long as you enjoy it, you’re much more likely to stick with it.
#3: Lose weight if you’re overweight
People who are overweight are much more likely to have high cholesterol. Fortunately, losing weight has a potent impact on lowering not only cholesterol but a number of other heart health markers, such as blood pressure.
If you’re carrying extra pounds, the team here at Patel & Patel can help you trim down and improve your cholesterol.
#4: Eat more fiber
Most people are failing to get enough fiber in their diet. Fiber offers more than digestive benefits. It reduces the amount of cholesterol in your blood by binding to cholesterol in the intestines and removing it.
You get two types of fiber in the diet, soluble and insoluble. Most high fiber foods contain a mixture of both kinds of fiber so there’s no need to focus on one over the other. Foods rich in fiber include:
#5: Avoid smoking
The risk of throat and lung cancer aren’t the only reasons to avoid smoking. Cigarette smoking damages blood vessels and increases LDL. Additionally, smoking makes LDL more sticky, causing it to cling to artery walls and accumulate, raising your risk of heart disease. If you’ve tried to quit smoking in the past without success, there are medications and resources that can help.