The #1 Best Habit to Lower Your Cholesterol, Says Physician
High cholesterol affects 1 in 3 American adults, and is a primary risk factor for heart disease, the number 1 cause of death in the world. Not only that, but high cholesterol increases our risk for strokes, increases our risk for dementia, and is becoming increasingly common in children. The good news though, is that high cholesterol is very often preventable and reversible with lifestyle changes. I am a doctor who focuses on weight loss and disease prevention, and I have helped people reverse their high cholesterol in just 12 weeks by making changes to their diet and lifestyle. Read on to find out more—and to ensure your health and the health of others, don't miss these Sure Signs You've Already Had COVID.
Avoid These Types of Fat
Reduce intake of saturated fat and eliminate eating trans fat. Saturated fat is solid at room temperature, and drives up your LDL, or "bad cholesterol." It mostly comes from animal products, but is also commonly found in some baked goods that often include saturated plant fats such as palm oil and coconut oil. The five top sources of saturated fat in the United States are cheese, pre-made desserts (like cake, muffins, cookies and ice cream), chicken, pork, and burgers.
Trans fats are a form of unsaturated fat, which have been linked to an increased risk of heart disease, strokes, and type 2 diabetes. They also increase the bad cholesterol and lower the good cholesterol. Trans fats should be actively avoided. Most trans fats are created in an industrial process that adds hydrogen to liquid vegetable oils to make them more solid. On labels, they will be listed in the ingredient list as "partially hydrogenated oils." These products are so unhealthy, that in May 2019, the USDA banned trans fats in the United States, but they may still be found in smaller amounts in some products such as fried foods, baked goods, shortening, margarine, microwave popcorn, refrigerated dough, and non dairy coffee creamers.
Eat More Of These Fats
Replace the saturated and trans fats with healthier fats, such as monounsaturated fat and omega 3 fatty acids. Olives, olive oil, avocados, avocado oil, and most nuts are good sources of monounsaturated fat. By consuming monounsaturated fat, rather than saturated fat and trans fat, you can decrease your bad cholesterol (LDL), increase your good cholesterol (HDL), and you can actually decrease your risk for heart disease and diabetes.
Here are some ideas to eat more monounsaturated fats and less saturated fat. Try dipping your bread in olive oil, rather than using butter. Eat a handful of almonds as a snack, rather than eating cheese.
Omega 3' fatty acids are anti-inflammatory, and may be especially beneficial for cardiovascular health. By replacing meat, and eating more omega 3 fatty acids instead, you can lower your bad cholesterol (LDL), decrease your triglycerides, and increase your good cholesterol (HDL).
There has been an enormous amount of research on omega 3 fatty acids and cardiovascular health for the past 20 years. Because of the link between omega 3 fatty acid intake and decreased cardiovascular disease, the American Heart Association recommends that all adults eat 2 servings of fatty fish per week. Fish high in omega-3 fatty acids include salmon, tuna, trout, mackerel, sardines and herring. Plant sources of omega-3 fatty acids include flaxseeds, walnuts, and chia seeds.
Eat More Fiber
There are 2 types of fiber— soluble fiber and insoluble fiber, and they both have tremendous health benefits. Soluble fiber in particular, found in oats, barley, beans, lentils, and many fruits and vegetables reduces the absorption of cholesterol, by binding to cholesterol in the digestive tract and preventing it from being digested. For this reason, eating a diet high in soluble fiber can significantly decrease cholesterol levels.
Here are some ideas to add more soluble fiber to your diet: Eat a bowl of oatmeal with fruit for your breakfast. Eat a serving of beans every day. Eat an apple a day. Add some slices of avocado on your sandwiches or salads.
Increase physical activity. Exercise has so many benefits. Not only does it help to regulate your body weight, improve mood, and reduce blood sugars, but it can also increase your good cholesterol and decrease your bad cholesterol.
Per the guidelines published by the US Department of Health and Human Services, adults should aim for at least 150 minutes a week of moderate-intensity physical activity for substantial health benefits. This is equivalent of a brisk walk 30 minutes a day for 5 days per week. If you are doing vigorous exercise, like running, it is recommended that you aim for at least 75 minutes per week.
There is some evidence that vigorous aerobic exercise may have the biggest impact on increasing HDL levels, but any amount and type of exercise offers health benefits.
Eat More Plants
Choose plant-based proteins such as beans, lentils, and tofu. Animal products are not the sole source of protein, and if we choose, we can get all the protein that we need by eating plants. Even if we replace one meal a day, or a few meals a week with plant proteins instead of animal proteins, this could significantly improve our cholesterol levels.
Many people with high cholesterol assume that choosing chicken over red meat will help their cholesterol. But, in a study done in 2019, researchers found that when eating a comparable amount of saturated fat, consuming white meat and red meat increased cholesterol levels equally. In this same study, eating plant protein, rather than red or white meat was found to be best for cholesterol levels. With that being said, it is important to note that cuts of red meat often have higher levels of saturated fat than cuts of white meat, and eating red meat has also been linked to an increased risk of cancer and heart disease.
Watch Your Weight
Lose weight if needed. Not everyone with high cholesterol is overweight, but if you are overweight or obese, losing even a small amount of weight can improve your cholesterol. This connection between body weight and cholesterol is likely due to many factors. Losing weight can initially decrease triglyceride levels, but then it can help reduce LDL and total cholesterol levels, by decreasing inflammation, and improving the way the body manages cholesterol.
The Final Word From The Doctor
High cholesterol is very often preventable and reversible with diet and lifestyle changes. By making these changes, you may likely see improvements in your cholesterol, even within a few months. Not only that, but the same lifestyle changes can help decrease your blood sugar, decrease your blood pressure, and improve your digestive health. At the same time, you may likely be decreasing your risk for heart disease, strokes, dementia, and adding healthier years to your life. And to protect your life and the lives of others, don't visit any of these 35 Places You're Most Likely to Catch COVID.
Dr. Ritu Saluja-Sharma MD is a board-certified physician in Emergency Medicine and Lifestyle Medicine, an integrative health coach, and the founder of Head Heart Hands.