Did you know that there are certain fats that we could not live without, as they perform vital functions in our body?
They support and protect organs such as the heart or the kidneys, they provide us with energy, they help protect us from the cold...
For this reason, we must ensure a correct supply of these healthy fats through food, usually eating avocado, seeds, virgin oils such as olive oil, nuts, and legumes.
However, the fats found in butter and margarine, snacks, pastries, red meat, sausages, precooked foods, or fast food, can be harmful when consumed in excess. It is not that they are forbidden foods (since there are none).
But we will have to take them very occasionally.
And cholesterol, where would we place it?
This depends on the amount in which we ingest it and it is found in our body, since in adequate amounts it is an essential fat because it helps the body to synthesize hormones and vitamin D, to form bile, to maintain cell structure, etc.
However, when it is in excess, it can clog the walls of the arteries.
Also, it's one of the main causes of cardiovascular risk, along with advanced age, high blood pressure, hyperglycemia, tobacco, stress, and a sedentary lifestyle, since they increase cholesterol, blood pressure and damage the arteries.
Cholesterol is exclusive of animal origin.
All in all, there are different types depending on the lipoproteins that transport it through the blood.
For example, if it binds to the HDL lipoprotein, we have what is known as good cholesterol. Because it removes excess cholesterol from the blood.
On the other hand, if the cholesterol binds to the LDL lipoprotein, we have what is known as bad cholesterol, since it tends to accumulate in the arterial walls, narrowing them and hindering blood circulation.
High cholesterol levels affect around one in every three Americans. But there are changes you can make today to help lower your LDL and increase your HDL.
Here are 5 things you can do to lower cholesterol naturally:
1) Try to Avoid Trans Fats
You’ve probably heard this advice repeatedly because it’s one of the easiest things you can do to help control your diet.
Read nutrition labels; they can help you avoid one of the worst ingredients for your cholesterol levels: trans fats.
In the United States, and in an increasing number of other countries, food companies are required to list the amount of trans fats in their products on nutrition labels.
However, these labels can be misleading, because companies are allowed to round down when the amount of trans fat per serving is less than 0.5g per serving. This means some foods contain trans fats even though their labels say: “0g of trans fat per serving.”
Foods that commonly contain trans fats include:
- margarine and shortening
- pastries and other baked goods
- some microwaveable popcorn
- fried fast foods
- some pizzas
- nondairy coffee creamer
2) Choose meats like Fish and Chicken
Start by making some easy protein changes.
For starters, go easy on red meats. Many red meats are high in saturated fats, which can raise bad LDL cholesterol levels.
For healthier alternatives, choose skinless chicken or skinless turkey more often, and avoid processed meats. You can also try working more fish into your diet.
Fish are low in saturated fats and many also contain omega-3 fatty acids, which benefit your heart health and can boost your good HDL cholesterol levels.
All that said, steak and hamburgers can be hard to resist. When you’re grilling out, choose leaner cuts of meat.
Like anything, it’s OK to have some saturated fats in your diet. You just need to eat them in moderation.
3) Avoid Smoking
Smoking increases the risk of heart disease in several ways.
Above all, one of these is by changing how the body handles cholesterol. The immune cells in smokers are unable to return cholesterol from vessel walls to the blood for transport to the liver. This damage is related to tobacco tar, rather than nicotine.
These dysfunctional immune cells may contribute to the faster development of clogged arteries in smokers.
Cigarettes contain a toxic chemical compound called acrolein that can be absorbed into the bloodstream through the lungs.
All in all, scientists believe it impairs how HDL in the body transports cholesterol and thereby increases LDL levels, which may lead to the development of heart disease.
4) Exercise and work in some more movement to your daily tasks
Exercise is a win-win for heart health.
So not only does it improve physical fitness and help combat obesity, but it also reduces harmful LDL and increases beneficial HDL.
The AHA (American Heart Association) advises that 150 minutes of moderate aerobic exercise a week is enough to lower cholesterol levels.
Does that mean that you need to start running every day? Do you need to join a gym or buy a bunch of home fitness equipment?
If you want to, go ahead! But there are many other choices and finding a routine that works for you is what’s most important.
For example, do you usually take the elevator? Take the stairs instead. Do you walk your dog every day?
Go a little farther than usual or walk at a faster pace.
Need to go shopping?
Park farther away than you normally do. Catching up on your favorite TV series?
Try stretching, dumbbells, or kettlebells while you’re watching rather than just sitting on the couch.
Also, look for chances to bring motion into your daily life, such as walking while you talk on the phone.
If you’re feeling good, work up to more intense physical activity, like lap swimming, jogging, or hot yoga. Don’t overexert yourself but remember that regular and consistent exercise has benefits beyond managing your cholesterol.
It also helps reduce blood pressure and builds your overall physical, mental, and emotional well-being.
Even if you just go a little farther or a little faster than you usually do, that extra activity will be a big step in the right direction for your health.
5) Try having one vegetarian meal every week
Don’t let the word “vegetarian” scare you. By choosing a vegetarian prepared meal you are hitting multiple cholesterol-lowering goals at the same time; like reducing fat intake and getting more soluble fiber.
The key is to build up a routine, like making every Thursday night vegetarian night.
So once that becomes a habit, you’ll find it easy and if wanted you can expand it to different nights or meals. Your body will notice it!
6) Maintain an Appropriate Weight for You
Having overweight or obesity increases the risk of developing high “bad” cholesterol levels. Studies show that 10lb of excess fat produces around 10mg of cholesterol per day.
Good news though!
Losing weight can also decrease those high cholesterol levels.
Research shows that losing between 5-10%of weight significantly reduces LDL cholesterol, as well as triglycerides. People who lost over 10% of their weight reduce those levels even more.
Overall, losing weight has a double benefit for your well-being, by increasing beneficial HDL and decreasing bad LDL.
7) Moderate Alcohol Intake
Studies link moderate alcohol intake with higher levels of HDL cholesterol, but the benefits are not strong enough to recommend alcohol to people who are not already “usual drinkers”.
Regardless, if you do drink, do so in moderation.
Above all, for healthy adults under 65, one to two drinks per day is an appropriate amount (depending on constitution and lifestyle).
One thing is clear, too much alcohol can lead to serious health issues, such as high blood pressure, strokes, liver, and kidney problems, among many others.
8) Prepare your Food Slightly Differently
It’s not only what you eat, but also HOW you eat it. A few changes in the way you cook your meals and what you buy in the grocery store might impact your weight and your cholesterol levels.
- When cooking meat or fish, remove the fat and the skin. This will help you maintain protein intake while reducing fat.
- Try to avoid breading and frying, since they bring in extra fat. Instead, try and focus on broiling, baking, grilling, and boiling the food. Also, try and use healthy oils and avoid butter and margarine as much as possible.
9) Embrace low-fat milk, cheese, and yogurts
Losing weight and reducing cholesterol does not mean you have to give everything up. Sometimes is just about making smarter choices. When it comes to dairy, picking the healthier option might be an easy win!
When choosing dairy products in the grocery store, try low-fat dairy products instead of regular ones.
And if you are feeling experimental, why not chose Almond or Soy milk instead?
You’ll end up loving it! -Talking from personal experience at least-.
Making these changes is helpful because full-fat dairy products contain very high levels of fat and cholesterol.
By picking the “healthier version”, you’ll build healthier cholesterol levels without giving up what you like.
10) Try Supplements
There is strong evidence that fish oil and soluble fiber improve cholesterol and promote heart health. Fish oil is rich in the omega-3 fatty acids docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) and eicosatetraenoic acid (EPA).
Several studies found that supplementing the diets of older adults who had high blood pressure and high cholesterol with fish oil based Omega3 reduced high blood pressure and both total cholesterol and LDL levels.
However, the AHA (American Heart Association) surprised the medical world in 2020 with the announcement that its international STRENGTH trial involving a medication made from fish oil failed to reduce the risk of cardiac events.
The study involved 13,000 people who either had existing heart disease or were at risk of developing it.
Cholesterol has important functions in the body, but in excess, it can cause clogged arteries and heart diseases.
If you have high cholesterol, lifestyle interventions are the first line of treatment.
Also, remember that according to CDC (Center for Disease Control) recommends everyone to have their cholesterol checked once every 5 years after the age of 20.
Ask your doctors about any concerns you might have.