How to Lower Cholesterol Levels

Waking up to an email saying your 8am class is cancelled can be exciting news. Learning you have high cholesterol, not so much. There are, unfortunately, some risk factors for high cholesterol we can’t control, such as age (>45 years for men and >55 for women) and family history of heart disease. Fortunately, there are a lot of modifiable risk factors, such as: smoking, high blood pressure, obesity, and physical inactivity. Before we go into information as to how we can lower cholesterol, let’s get some basic definitions out of the way first.

Definitions

Cholesterol: a waxy, fat-like substance that is found in all cells. Cholesterol helps makes things like vitamin D and hormones. Your body makes enough cholesterol on its own to get these functions done.

LDL: aka “bad cholesterol”, brings cholesterol from your liver to your arteries. Too much LDL is bad because it can cause a plaque buildup which can clog arteries.

HDL: aka “good cholesterol” aka “the homie”, helps remove LDL cholesterol from arteries. Higher the HDL is, the better off you are.

Screen Shot 2016-02-23 at 12.17.17 PM
Learning how to read a nutrition label is a major key (image used from: https://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/files/docs/public/heart/chol_tlc.pdf)

How much can I lower my LDL?

  • Decrease saturated fat to less than 7% of total calories   → 8-10% reduction
    • If you’re really focused on decreasing your cholesterol levels, this may be the big point to start to focus on. When looking at “total fat” on a nutrition label, you may come across saturated fat and/or trans fat; both are bad and can increase your LDL level. No need to go extreme and 100% eliminate it, but definitely limit it.
    • Things high in saturated fat are fatty beef, lamb, pork, butter, and cheese (ugh, c’mon cheese =[ ). Poultry and fish are better alternatives if you’re getting too much excess of the meats high in saturated fats.
    • Read here for a nice summary on saturated fats.
  • Decrease dietary cholesterol to less than 200 mg/day    → 3-5% reduction
    • Do you know what would be a really good way to track this? I’m not sure but there’s this guy who wrote this article who may know.
  • Lose 10 pounds if overweight                                                    → 5-8% reduction
    • A little exercise never hurt anyone. Unless you’re doing crossfit, then I can’t guarantee your safety. Just kidding, crossfitters please don’t unsubscribe, it’s a totally great form exercise (except the extreme versions which sacrifices your achilles).
  • Increase soluble fiber by 5-10 grams/day                           → 3-5% reduction
    • Here’s a nice list with fiber content of different foods.
  • Increase plant sterols by 2 grams/day                                → 5-15% reduction
    • Different things which have planet sterols are:
      • Wheat bran, peanuts, vegetable oils (corn, sesame, canola and olive oil), and almonds
    • If you’re using sticks of butter to cook, replace the absolute deliciousness with margarine infused with plant sterols. You’ll find them in any supermarket.
Screen Shot 2016-02-23 at 12.17.54 PM
If you’re concerned on cholesterol, focus on saturated fat intake (image used from: https://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/files/docs/public/heart/chol_tlc.pdf)

Ok, what other specific things can I do?

  • Eat a handful of walnuts a day (equates to about 200 calories). In a meta-analysis of 365 patients, those with walnuts as a staple in their diets had a significant decrease in LDL and total cholesterol. Almonds have also shown to reduce LDL.
  • Cook with plant-sterol margarine, such as Benecol brand of margarine. Unsaturated fats, or “healthy fats”, can lower LDL. Benecol has a ratio you want in regards to saturated and unsaturated fats (1.5 vs 6 grams, respectively).
  • Subscribe to FNDfitness.
  • Eat 2-3 servings of fish a week, a recommendation by the American Heart Association. A great source of poly-unsaturated fats (omega-3), an increase in omega-3’s have been shown to be beneficial for heart health and increase HDL.
  • Exercise. Go run, do push-ups, burpees, pull-ups, just do something. Don’t be physically inactive.
  • Eat a Quest bar (still waiting for that sponsorship).
  • Don’t be extreme. You can go ahead and eat a burger or pizza slice, but look over the course of a week and assess what your diet is primarily being composed of. If you look back and you’re downing a few pizza slices every other day or a cheeseburger whenever Donald Trump says something stupid, that’s too often. (NOTE: this blog totally welcomes all people no matter your political affiliation. Seriously, I even used to watch the Apprentice…sometimes….when nothing else was on.)

Most people reading this post, I’m going to guess, are not going to have high cholesterol. Even so, it is something to be cognizant of as it will help optimize your diet and overall health. If you do have high cholesterol, especially if you’re young, fear not. You have the opportunity to make lifestyle modifications and make a difference in your cholesterol levels. Anything I didn’t cover here you want to know more about? Post a comment or message me on my Facebook page. Follow me on IG (FNDfitnessIG) to check out some of my “healthy” meals I make and maybe the occasional selfie.

Also, if you made it this far, I have something good cooking and it’s not the food you see on my IG page…did I mention I have an IG page? I’m making an actual “nutrition plan” titled: “The ‘I have a wedding in 3 months and need to get in shape really quick’ Nutrition Plan”. The title is a work in progress as it’s kind of long (enter joke from Michael Scott from ‘The Office’).  Anyway, keep an eye out for that to be out before the end of March. Peace, love, and pizza (watch the cheese though).

 

References

  1. Your Guide to Lowering Your Cholesterol With TLC”. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. December 2005. Accessed February 23. https://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/files/docs/public/heart/chol_tlc.pdf
  2. Banel DK, Hu FB. Effects of walnut consumption on blood lipids and other cardiovascular risk factors: a meta-analysis and systematic review. Am J Clin Nutr 2009; 90(1):56-63

 

 

 

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