Employee Wellness: 5 Ways to Lower Your Cholesterol Naturally
“My doctor told me I need to lower my cholesterol.”
Nutrition and health professionals hear this statement frequently, along with the question, “How do I lower my cholesterol?” Does this sound like you? If so, then you’re in the right place. This blog will help you to understand what cholesterol is, why lowering it is important, and five things you can start doing today to improve your cholesterol levels.
What is Cholesterol?
The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics defines cholesterol as a waxy substance found in animal-based foods as well as in our cells. Cholesterol has a bad rap but not all types are harmful. The body needs some cholesterol for transporting fat around the body for use in cells as well as for making hormones and vitamin D. HDL cholesterol (high density lipoprotein) is the “good” cholesterol because it helps to remove excess cholesterol from your body. Ideally, your HDL cholesterol levels should be higher than 40 mg/dL for women and 50 mg/dL for men.
LDL (low-density lipoprotein) and VLDL (very low-density lipoprotein) are the “bad” cholesterols that have a negative impact on our health. Ideal LDL levels are below 130 mg/dL for those at low risk of cardiac disease and less than 70 mg/dL for those at high risk. LDL is usually the type of cholesterol referred to when talking about high cholesterol because it creates plaque in the arteries which can lead to heart disease, stroke or blood clots.
How to Lower Your Cholesterol Naturally
How do you lower the “bad” cholesterol in the body? Try these five tips to see significant improvements in your cholesterol levels.
1. Focus on Fiber
Eating plenty of fiber, especially soluble fiber, can help to reduce LDL cholesterol. Soluble fiber forms a gel-like substance in the digestive tract which can help to bind cholesterol from foods and remove them from your body. Soluble fiber is found in many fruits and vegetables like Brussels sprouts, broccoli, oranges, peaches, guava, apple and carrots. You can also get fiber from lentils, black beans, avocado, and whole grains like oatmeal and barley. Try adding one fibrous food to each meal, such as an apple at breakfast, lentils at lunch, carrots and hummus for a snack and Brussels sprouts at dinner.
2. Pack Your Plate with Plants
Plant foods such as fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds and vegetable oils contain compounds called plant sterols or plant stanols. The structure of plant sterols looks a lot like cholesterol, so it competes with cholesterol for absorption in your digestive tract. This essentially helps to displace the bad cholesterol from your body as waste. Include more plant sterols at lunch by eating something like a “Buddha bowl” and having a salad with veggies and olive oil at dinner. This doesn’t mean you have to get rid of meat or animal products entirely, just focus on adding lots of plants to your plate to keep your heart healthy.
3. Emphasize Exercise
Weekly exercise is a key component of reducing cholesterol on the blood (aka serum cholesterol). It stimulates the movement of LDL cholesterol into the liver where it can be converted to bile for excretion from the body. The more you exercise, the more cholesterol is removed from the body. Exercise can also help to increase HDL cholesterol. Both moderate intensity aerobic exercise (such as light jogging, biking, or swimming laps) and strength training workouts are effective. However, it appears that more frequent exercise has a greater impact on cholesterol reduction. This means that you will lower your cholesterol more quickly and drastically if you do something like a 30-60 minute jog, bike ride, or strength training session several days per week rather than a once-a-week run or yoga session.
4. Eliminate Eggs?
You’ve likely heard that if you have high cholesterol you need to stop eating cholesterol, such as reducing your intake of eggs due to their cholesterol content. As it turns out, eating cholesterol doesn’t increase cholesterol any more than eating fat makes us fat, as researchers and nutritionists once believed. Nutrition is an ever-evolving science, and recent research has shown that dietary cholesterol has little impact on blood cholesterol. Instead, focus on reducing saturated fat, trans fat, alcohol, and high calorie, processed foods which can increase cholesterol and contribute to weight gain.
5. Lose Excess Weight
While losing weight may not be the most appealing plan for lowering cholesterol, it is definitely a goal to prioritize if you are overweight. Not sure if you’re overweight? One way to check is to measure your waistline. A waist circumference of more than 35 inches for women and 40 inches for men is a good indicator. Studies have found that losing just 5-10% of your body weight can result in significant reductions in bad cholesterol. The good news is that if you follow all the previous tips, you’ll have an easier time losing weight even without a drastic cut in calories.
While high cholesterol may sound scary, the good news is that it’s reversible! By adding more fruits, vegetables, legumes and nuts to your diet, exercising more frequently, and losing a few pounds (if needed) you will likely see those numbers come down in no time.
Learn more about nutrition for heart health and other wellness programs offered by Wellness Workdays.
Written by: Holly Soto, Wellness Workdays Dietetic Intern