I went to the doctor recently and got my bloodwork done. When the test results came back I found out my cholesterol is a bit on the high side! After looking more into this, I found out I wasn’t alone. Millions of people suffer from high cholesterol across the globe. Since it can be a risk factor for heart disease, I was a little concerned. After days of research and note-taking, I started to understand cholesterol more and even found easy ways to reduce it. So, if you’re in the same boat as me and millions of others, don’t worry! I’m going to tell you the top 5 ways to reduce your cholesterol effectively and easily.
What is Cholesterol?
“Know your enemy,” is a popular phrase from the ancient book, Sun Tzu’s The Art of War. It is practical in many applications and applies here as well. You must know what you’re fighting in order to fight it. So, it’s time to learn a little bit about cholesterol.
Cholesterol is an organic molecule, a type of lipid (or fatty acid), found in the blood. Your liver is responsible for making cholesterol for your body as it is essential for all human and animal life. It is also vital in the production of steroid hormones, bile acid, and vitamin D. The problem of high cholesterol usually results from your diet. Many animal products such as milk, eggs, cheese, meat, and butter have cholesterol. These same foods are also high in trans fats and saturated fats which both increase the levels of “bad cholesterol” in your bloodstream.
Yes, I did say “bad cholesterol”. This is because there is “good cholesterol”, too. You can read more about each of them below.
Good Cholesterol – HDL
HDL (high-density lipoprotein) cholesterol is the “good cholesterol”. This is because it serves an important purpose in the body. First of all, this type of cholesterol doesn’t clog your arteries. Secondly, it actually works to remove the “bad cholesterol” from your bloodstream. It sends it back to your liver where it is broken down and removed from the body.
The best way to increase your HDL cholesterol is through consuming more fatty fish, olive or coconut oil, and purple produce (such as eggplant, purple corn, blackberries, and red cabbage). Exercising regularly can also help.
Bad Cholesterol -LDL
LDL (low-density lipoprotein) cholesterol is the “bad cholesterol”. This is the one that can clog your arteries and lead to heart attacks, strokes, and more. It’s not initially bad on its own but it combines with other substances in the bloodstream and produces plaque. This cholesterol plaque is what builds up in the blood vessels and arteries causing them to become more narrow and blocked.
The best way to remember the difference between the two is that the bad cholesterol, LDL, is Lousy while the good cholesterol, HDL, is Healthy.
Top 5 Ways to Reduce Your Cholesterol
Now that we know what cholesterol is and the two different types, you can see why it’s so important to lower your bad cholesterol. Some of this can be done by increasing your good cholesterol. Keep reading to find out the top 5 ways to reduce your cholesterol.
1. Avoid Trans-Fat
You’ve likely heard about trans fat before. If nothing else, you probably know it’s bad. There is a reason you’ll find a lot of products now in the stores labeled “0 trans fat”, it’s because food manufacturers have caught on to how bad it is for you. Trans fat raises your LDL cholesterol, while simultaneously working to lower your HDL cholesterol. It has been recognized as a major contributor to heart disease and stroke.
The best way to avoid trans fat is to check the labels of the food you buy (trans fat can sometimes be listed as partially hydrogenated vegetable oil). Trans fat is often found in baked goods and fried food such as pizza, cookies, fried chicken, and cakes.
2. Increase the Amount You Exercise
Adding at least 20 minutes of exercise per day, five times a week, can help lower your cholesterol. This actually works on several different levels which is why it’s so important.
Research has shown that exercise increases the amount of HDL cholesterol in your blood. What’s more, it can also change the nature of LDL cholesterol itself. Researchers at Duke University Medical Center found that exercise improved the size of cholesterol in your bloodstream. What this means is, those who exercised more often had larger and more fluffy particles that were less likely to clog or block arteries.
If that’s not enough, exercise can also help you lose weight. According to the National Institutes of Health, losing even just 5% of your body weight can have a significant effect on your cholesterol. It even reduces your risk for heart disease, stroke, and type 2 diabetes.
3. Eat Heart-Healthy Foods
Certain heart-healthy foods can not only lower your LDL cholesterol, but they can also increase your HDL cholesterol, so it’s a win-win! Here is a brief list of some of the best foods you can eat to lower your cholesterol.
Fatty fish such as salmon, albacore tuna, trout, and anchovies are rich in omega-3 fatty acids. These work to reduce triglycerides in the bloodstream and help protect the heart. Fatty fish can reduce LDL cholesterol and increase HDL cholesterol. You should aim to eat fatty fish for dinner at least 3 nights a week or more.
Studies have shown certain nuts like almonds, peanuts, and walnuts can lower LDL cholesterol. They also have other heart-healthy properties and make a great snack. Eat about 1.5-2 ounces a day for optimal health.
Oats are a great way to add soluble fiber to your diet. Soluble fiber works to reduce the absorption of cholesterol into your bloodstream. It can also help fill you up faster, keep you feeling fuller longer, and promotes regularity. A great way to add oats into your daily diet is by eating oatmeal or even Cheerios for breakfast. If you add in some fruit like a banana or some strawberries, you’ll add even more fiber!
Avocados are rich with polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fats, which actually work to lower LDL cholesterol. A study published in the Journal of the American Heart Association found that eating just one avocado a day can help lower your LDL cholesterol.
4. Quit Smoking
If you’re not a smoker, you can skip over this part, but if you are, you should read on. The negative effects of smoking are well-researched and known. However, scientists have recently found that smoking decreases the overall production of HDL cholesterol. One study followed smokers who quit for one year. Those who remained smoke-free more than doubled their levels of HDL cholesterol compared with those who started smoking again.
5. Reduce Your Stress
You might be surprised to learn that your stress level can increase your cholesterol. There have actually been quite a few research studies to prove the correlation. However, the most widely cited is a large-scale study of over 90,000 people that was published in the Scandinavian Journal of Public Health. It found that those who reported high levels of stress had a great chance of being diagnosed with high cholesterol. Researchers believe this may be due to the hormone cortisol that the body releases during stress. It times of high stress, adrenaline may also be released. This, in turn, triggers triglycerides which boost the LDL cholesterol in your bloodstream.
Reducing Your Cholesterol Doesn’t Have to Be Hard
While receiving the news that your cholesterol is a bit on the high side can be a little scary, there’s no need to worry! As long as you are proactive, you can take the necessary steps to easily and effectively lower your cholesterol. Make sure to include some heart-healthy foods in your diet, get some exercise when you can, and try your best to reduce your stress level. Practicing yoga can be a great way to both lose weight and reduce your stress, too!
You’ve taken the right step in educating yourself on ways to reduce your cholesterol, so you’re already on the right path. You can do it!