Blame the pharmaceutical commercials—which typically focus on the older generations—for if you automatically think you're too young to worry about cholesterol. The truth is that high cholesterol can affect anyone—even people in their 20s and 30s.
High cholesterol can be a result of a variety of things, like weight, genetics, and even ethnicity. If ignored for too long, unfavorable cholesterol levels cause a variety of serious health problems, including heart disease and stroke. But you can take action to help lower your cholesterol and keep your health strong; simply follow our advice below and make sure to avoid these 30 Worst Foods For Your Heart.
Know Your Risk Factors
Do you come from a family with a history of heart disease and elevated cholesterol? Then you need to be vigilant. Also, people of certain Asian backgrounds (especially people from Singapore) have a risk of higher cholesterol, says Jared Knopman, M.D., a neurologist at Weill-Cornell and honoree at the upcoming American Heart Association Red Ball in New York City on Friday, May 13, 2016.
Stay Away from Sugar
Sugar rightfully gets a bad rap for the effect it has on your waistline and energy levels, but it can also have an impact on cholesterol, too.
"Sugar is now felt to be a bigger contributor to elevated cholesterol compared to any other food type," said Dr. Knopman. To cut down on sugar, he advises people to avoid sodas, high-glycemic juices, and excessive carbohydrates. If you have diabetes, make sure you keep up with checking your blood sugar levels, too.
Get Routine Check-Ups
If your cholesterol is high, knowing it as early as possible is an important part of the prevention process, according to Sohah Iqbal, M.D., a cardiologist at NYU. "High level of cholesterol can start sticking to our arteries early in life which can lead to heart disease and stroke later on," says Dr. Iqbal.
As for when you should start routine check-ups, Dr. Knopman recommends doing so at the age of 40—but says that "people with family history of heart disease, high blood pressure, or high cholesterol should start getting checked in early adulthood, like around 18."
Get At Least 20-30 Minutes of Exercise a Day
Exercise is shown to lower LDL cholesterol (the bad kind) in a matter of months and raises HDL (good cholesterol), according to Dr. Knopman. Don't feel like you have time to dedicate to a regular workout? No problem.
"The secret is just to be active. It's not about getting to the gym every day," adds Dr. Iqbal. "Walk and go up stairs when you can. Put activity in your daily life, get your heart rate up with a cardio activity like running, biking, or even dancing when you can. The key is to stay active regularly—not sporadically."
Keep It Fresh
Diet plays a huge role in your cholesterol levels. A good rule of thumb is to keep your diet full of fresh foods, including plenty of fruits and vegetables, oats, and fish. And don't skimp on the superfoods. "Superfoods like avocado and kale aren't called superfoods for nothing," says Dr. Iqbal. Check out these 20 Fresh Tips for How to Cook Kale for some new tricks and tips!
Eat the 'Bad' Stuff in Moderation
As for what you should stay away from? It's pretty simple: Skip the processed foods loaded with saturated fats as much as possible. And if you can't image cutting something out entirely, then indulge moderately. "As a doctor, I rarely tell people to stop eating certain foods," says Dr. Iqbal. "I educate them on what has a higher content of fats and cholesterol and have them come up with a moderation plan."
You'll also want to keep foods like red meat, whole dairy, and eggs in check. "I starting moderating how many burgers I eat, my favorite food, in my twenties," adds Dr. Iqbal. "Must practice what you preach!"
Make Sure You Get Your Omega-3s
Studies have shown that omega-3 fatty acids can help you avoid heart disease by lowering cholesterol and blood pressure, according to Dr. Iqbal. Fish oil supplements are okay, but these 15 Best Omega-3s Superfoods are even better.
Get a Grip on Your Bad Behaviors
It's clear that your diet has a huge impact on your cholesterol, but other outside factors can influence cholesterol levels. According to Dr. Knopman, smoking, high blood pressure, and a sedentary lifestyle can be just as bad for your body as eating all the wrong foods. Avoid these 40 Habits That Make You Sick and Fat!
Knowledge is power, so keeping up-to-date on the latest information regarding cholesterol—like the tips in this article—is super important.
"Educate yourself on foods that are high in cholesterol and be mindful of how much and how often you eat those foods," advises Dr. Iqbal. "Read labels; fats and cholesterol can be hiding in many foods, even those you think are healthy, like nutrition bars."
Just Do It
If there's one thing that won't help lower your cholesterol, it's a stream of excuses. Dr. Iqbal says that you can have a million-and-one reasons for not paying attention to your health, but none of them will help your cholesterol. Keep your cholesterol levels in the healthy ranges and you'll prolong your life and stay out of the doctor's office!