Focus On Monounsaturated Fats
As opposed to saturated fats, unsaturated fats have at least one double chemical bond that changes the way your body uses them. Monounsaturated fats have only one double bond.
Some recommend a low fat diet for weight loss, but research is mixed on its effectiveness in controlling blood cholesterol.
One research report acknowledged that lower fat intake is an effective way to reduce blood cholesterol levels. However, researchers were concerned over potential negative effects of low fat diets, such as lowering HDL and increasing triglycerides .
In contrast, research has shown that a diet high in monounsaturated fats, such as the Mediterranean diet, helps reduce levels of harmful LDL and increase levels of healthy HDL .
Monounsaturated fats may also reduce the oxidation of cholesterol, according to research. Oxidized cholesterol can react with free radicals and contribute to clogged arteries. This can lead to atherosclerosis or heart disease .
Overall, monounsaturated fats are healthy because they decrease harmful LDL cholesterol, increase good HDL cholesterol and reduce harmful oxidation (
Monounsaturated fats like those in olive oil, canola oil, tree nuts, and avocados reduce LDL cholesterol, increase HDL cholesterol, and reduce the oxidation that contributes to clogged arteries.
Myth: I Would Be Able To Feel It If I Had High Cholesterol
Fact: High cholesterol usually has no signs or symptoms. You may not know you have unhealthy cholesterol levels until it is too latewhen you have a heart attack or stroke. Thats why its so important to get your cholesterol levels checked at least every 5 years.1,2 Learn more about getting your cholesterol checked.
Occasionally, some people develop yellowish growths on their skin called xanthomas, which are cholesterol-rich deposits. People with xanthomas may have high cholesterol levels.
Lifestyle Changes That Can Help
Whatever your cholesterol levels, you can benefit from the following tips. You need to put all these steps together to improve cholesterol and reduce your overall risk for heart disease, says Amit Khera, MD, director of the preventive cardiology program at the UT Southwestern Medical Center in Dallas.
1. Eat smart. The American Heart Association advises limiting red and processed meat, full-fat dairy, fried foods, sodium, and added sugar. Instead, focus on produce, whole grains, and poultry, fish, and nuts, and use healthy oils, like olive oil.
2. Move more every day. Regular aerobic exercise like brisk walking may increase good HDL and reduce levels of triglycerides , and resistance training can lower bad LDL, according to an AHA scientific statement.
3. Maintain a healthy weight. Being overweight may raise bad cholesterol and reduce the good , the AHA says. But losing a moderate amount could help: In one study, overweight women who lost 5 to 10 percent of their body weight saw their LDL drop by about 10 points and men saw theirs decrease by about 4.5 points.
4. Stop smoking. Research says that quitting can raise HDL levels by 2.2 points.
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When To Consider Cholesterol Medication
If lifestyle changes aren’t lowering your cholesterol levels, or if you’re at risk for having a heart attack or stroke, your doctor may prescribe medications called statins. These are perhaps the most effective cholesterol-lowering drugs, according to the AHA.
Statins work by preventing your liver from producing LDL cholesterol, and helping it remove LDL cholesterol that’s already in your blood. Randomized trials have found that statins reduce the risk of cardiovascular events by about 25% each year for every 39 mg/dL of cholesterol.
While statins are generally considered safe, they may have some of the following side effects:
- Muscle or joint soreness, pain, or weakness
Overall, the benefits of statins far outweigh the risk of side effects, the AHA notes in a 2018 report.
“From what we know from long-term studies, they appear to be very safe,” says cardiologist Eugene Yang, MD, medical director of the UW Medicine Eastside Specialty Center and chair-elect of the ACC Prevention of Cardiovascular Disease Council.
But statins won’t lower cholesterol on their own, so it’s important to also adopt the healthy lifestyle changes mentioned above. “One of the things that’s really important is that patients don’t use the medications as a way to justify eating unhealthily,” Yang says.
Lowering Your Total And Ldl Cholesterol Levels
Here are some things you can do:
Lose weight if you are overweight.
Exercise regularly. For example, walk or ride a bicycle for 30 minutes at least three times a week.
Eat fewer high-fat foods, like butter, cheese, meat, and some vegetable fats . Foods that are high in saturated fat should be less than 7 percent of your total daily calories.
Eat more high-fiber foods, like vegetables, fruits, grains, and whole-grain breads, cereals, and pasta.
Your doctor can help you plan a heart-healthy diet. If exercising and changing your diet do not help enough, you might need to take a medicine to lower your cholesterol level.
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What Is Cholesterol And Why Is It Important
Cholesterol is a type of fat molecule found in the bloodstream. There are two primary sources of the cholesterol floating through the body we create most in our livers, and the rest comes from our diet, which is called dietary cholesterol.
Though we usually hear about cholesterol in the context of it being bad for us, cholesterol helps our bodies perform a number of essential functions, like cell division and vitamin and hormone synthesis.
Our livers make enough cholesterol to support our body function, so technically, scientists don’t consider it an essential nutrient we can physically survive and thrive without consuming any cholesterol at all. However, the diet would be pretty restrictive.
Some cholesterol in the blood is entirely normal. Still, when that level raises above the healthy range, it can increase your chances of cardiovascular disease, heart attacks, and stroke.
Lower Your Cholesterol Whether You’re Eating Breakfast Lunch Dinner Dessert Or Even A Snack
Did you know cholesterol in food only plays a small part in increasing our bodies cholesterol levels? But what we eat has a big role to play in managing our cholesterol and heart health.Consistently poor eating habits, combined with a lack of physical activity can lead to unhealthy weight gain, which can also raise levels of unhealthy cholesterol levels and lower levels of HDL cholesterol which can negatively affect your heart health.
High-density lipoprotein is often called the good cholesterol because it helps to remove other forms of cholesterol from your bloodstream and helps to keep cholesterol from building up in the arteries. Low-density lipoprotein is often called the bad cholesterol because it is the main source of cholesterol build-up and blockage in the arteries.
Time and time again we hear that balance is the key to health. There are some foods that can improve LDL cholesterol levels and eating these foods in moderate amounts can help keep us fighting fit. Foods containing healthier fats or soluble fibre are great examples of this. So with this in mind, here are some delicious ideas that can help you eat your way to a healthier heart.
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Myth: All Cholesterol Is Bad For You
Fact: Some types of cholesterol are essential for good health. Your body needs cholesterol to perform important jobs, such as making hormones and building cells. Cholesterol travels through the blood on proteins called lipoproteins. Two types of lipoproteins carry cholesterol throughout the body:
- LDL , sometimes called bad cholesterol, makes up most of your bodys cholesterol. High levels of LDL cholesterol raise your risk for heart disease and stroke.
- HDL , or good cholesterol, carries cholesterol back to the liver. The liver then flushes it from the body. High levels of HDL cholesterol can lower your risk for heart disease and stroke.
When your body has too much LDL cholesterol, it can build up in the walls of your blood vessels. This buildup is called plaque. As your blood vessels build up plaque over time, the insides of the vessels narrow. This narrowing can restrict and eventually block blood flow to and from your heart and other organs. When blood flow to the heart is blocked, it can cause angina or a heart attack.
When To Consider A Statin
Generally speaking, the American College of Cardiology and the AHA advise statins for:
Adults of any age with CVD with atherosclerosis or a past heart attack or stroke. The goal is to get your LDL under 70, and even lower is better, says Steven Nissen, MD, chair of cardiovascular medicine at the Cleveland Clinic. If you already have heart disease or had a heart attack or stroke, aim for at least under 70, he says. Under 55 is ideal.
Many adults with type 2 diabetes. For those between ages 40 and 75, the ACC and AHA advise moderate-intensity doses of statins like atorvastatin, pravastatin, rosuvastatin, or simvastatin, and high-intensity doses of statins like atorvastatin or rosuvastatin for those with multiple risk factors for CVD . Over age 75, the groups say that a statin might be reasonable if youve discussed the risks and benefits with your doctor.
Adults ages 40 to 70 with an LDL level of 190 or above. In this case, the AHA-ACC recommends the highest-dose statin you can safely tolerate.
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When It’s Less Clear
The groups recommend that you consider a moderate-intensity statin if youre under 75 and have an LDL above 70 mg/dL and some risk of CVD with atherosclerosis. But plenty of adults with LDL in that range and no other CVD risks may be able to bring their cholesterol in line with lifestyle changes alone, Hochman says.
A calculator that assesses your 10-year risk of a heart attack or stroke, such as the AHAs risk calculator, may be a starting point for discussing options with your doctor. Theyre essentially questionnaires that use your age, race, blood pressure and cholesterol levels, and health and smoking history to estimate your risk of a heart attack or stroke in the next decade. The results can help you and your doctor determine whether you should start taking cholesterol drugs.
The ideal result is below 7.5 percent. If yours is intermediate , weigh other factors, such as a family history of heart disease and personal preference, says Adam Cifu, MD, a professor of medicine at UChicago Medicine.
Finally, remember that youre a key part of the decision-making, whether its to stick with lifestyle changes or add medication. At the end of the day, Hochman says, its an individual decision.
Correction: This article has been updated to address the effect of stopping smoking on cholesterol levels.
Editors Note: A version of this article also appeared in the November 2021 issue of Consumer Reports On Health.
Medicines To Lower Cholesterol
For some people, making lifestyle changes alone does not their lower cholesterol enough. They may also need to take medicines. There are several types of cholesterol-lowering drugs available. They work in different ways and can have different side effects. Talk to your health care provider about which medicine is right for you.
Even if you take medicines to lower your cholesterol, you still need to continue with lifestyle changes.
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Supplements To Lower Cholesterol
Some companies sell supplements that they say can lower cholesterol. Researchers have studied many of these supplements, including red yeast rice, flaxseed, and garlic. At this time, there isn’t conclusive evidence that any of them are effective in lowering cholesterol levels. Also, supplements may cause side effects and interactions with medicines. Always check with your health care provider before you take any supplements.
What Causes High Cholesterol
Some causes of high blood cholesterol include:
- Low intake of foods containing healthy fats healthy fats tend to increase the good cholesterol.
- High intake of foods containing unhealthy fats such as fatty meats, full-fat dairy products, butter, coconut oil, palm oil and most deep-fried takeaway foods and commercially baked products . Foods high in trans-fats include most commercially baked products and deep-fried takeaway foods.
- Low intake of foods containing fibre foods that are high in dietary fibre, particularly soluble fibre, can reduce the amount of LDL cholesterol in your blood. Include fibre-containing foods in your diet by choosing vegetables, fruits, wholegrains, nuts and seeds every day.
- Cholesterol in food this has only a small effect on LDL cholesterol -saturated fats and trans-fats in food have a much greater effect.
- You can also eat up to 7 eggs a week as part of a healthy, balanced diet low in saturated and trans-fats, without increasing your risk of heart disease.
Some people will have high cholesterol even if they follow a healthy, balanced diet low in saturated fats and trans-fats. These people may need to take cholesterol-lowering medicine as prescribed by their doctor.
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What Lifestyle Changes Can I Make To Help Improve My Cholesterol Levels
Exercise can raise HDL cholesterol levels. It can also reduce levels of LDL cholesterol and triglycerides . Try to work out for 30 minutes, 4 to 6 times a week. Your workout should be moderate to vigorous. Make sure you talk to your doctor before starting an exercise plan.
Lose weight if youre overweight.
Being overweight can raise your cholesterol levels. Losing weight, even just 5 or 10 pounds, can lower your total cholesterol, LDL cholesterol, and triglyceride levels.
If you smoke, quit.
Smoking lowers your HDL cholesterol. Even exposure to second-hand smoke can affect your HDL level. Talk to your doctor about developing a plan to help you stop smoking.
Eat a heart-healthy diet.
- Eat plenty of fresh fruits and vegetables.Fruits and vegetables are naturally low in fat. They add flavor and variety to your diet. They are also the best source of fiber, vitamins, and minerals for your body. Aim for 5 cups of fruits and vegetables every day. This should not include potatoes, corn, or rice. These count as carbohydrates.
- Pick good fats over bad fats. Fat is part of a healthy diet, but there are bad fats and good fats. Bad fats include saturated and trans fats. They are found in foods such as:
- Fats in whole milk dairy products.
Limit the amount of saturated fat in your diet. Avoid trans fat completely.
In addition to fiber, whole grains supply B vitamins and important nutrients not found in foods made with white flour.
How Quickly Can I Lower My Cholesterol
Your cholesterol levels may lower as quickly as a few weeks to a few months, depending on your treatment plan.
If your levels are very high, your healthcare provider may recommend taking medications at the start of your treatment plan. This may help lower your cholesterol levels more quickly. The sooner you can lower your bad cholesterol levels, the sooner you can lower your risk for plaques to form.
You can also lower your cholesterol through lifestyle and diet changes alone, but it may take three to six months to see results. Talk with your healthcare provider to figure out the best treatment plan for you.
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The Link Between Dietary And Blood Cholesterol
The liver produces as much cholesterol as your body needs. It packages cholesterol with fat in whats called very low-density lipoproteins .
As VLDL delivers fat to cells throughout the body, it changes into the more dense LDL, which carries cholesterol wherever it is needed.
The liver also releases HDL, which then carries unused cholesterol back to the liver. This process is called reverse cholesterol transport, and it protects against clogged arteries and other types of heart disease.
Some lipoproteins, especially LDL and VLDL, are prone to damage by free radicals in a process called oxidation. Oxidized LDL and VLDL are even more harmful to heart health .
Although food companies often advertise products as being low in cholesterol, recent research has shown that dietary cholesterol actually has only a small influence on the amount of cholesterol in the body .
This is because the liver changes the amount of cholesterol it makes depending on how much you eat. When your body absorbs more cholesterol from your diet, it makes less in the liver.
Current guidelines by leading U.S. health organizations for lowering risk of heart disease no longer contain specific recommended levels for dietary cholesterol, including the:
- American Heart Association (
- 7 )
The guidelines do recommend moderating cholesterol consumption, but this is more to limit the saturated fat that often accompanies cholesterol in foods than to limit intake of cholesterol itself .
Medicines To Lower Your Cholesterol Level
Medicines called statins are most often used to lower cholesterol levels. There are other cholesterol-lowering medicines that your doctor might prescribe, like resins, fibrates, and niacin. If you need to take a medicine to lower your cholesterol level, your doctor will help you find the one that works best for you.
Estrogen replacement therapy lowers your bad cholesterol level and raises your good cholesterol level. However, studies have not shown that it lowers the risk of heart disease.
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Lifestyle Changes To Improve Your Cholesterol
Cholesterol is a waxy, fat-like substance in your body. Your body uses it to protect nerves, make cell tissues, and produce certain hormones. Your liver makes all the cholesterol your body needs. But you also get cholesterol directly from food you eat. Common sources include eggs, meats, and dairy products. This can add too much cholesterol into your body. If this happens, you may have high cholesterol. That can have negative effects on your health. Luckily, there are lifestyle changes you can make to improve your cholesterol.
Symptoms Of High Cholesterol
High cholesterol usually has no symptoms, which is why many people do not know they have it. You can only find out if you have it through the lipid blood test.
Important: The American Heart Association recommends that adults have their cholesterol checked every four to six years. People at risk for heart disease should have their cholesterol levels checked more frequently.
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