If you have a high cholesterol, you may feel perfectly fine. Nevertheless, that extra cholesterol is still building up in your arteries, increasing your risk of a heart attack or stroke. Cholesterol comes in two forms – LDL cholesterol and HDL cholesterol. LDL cholesterol, often dubbed the “bad” cholesterol is the type of cholesterol that clogs your arteries and raises your risk of heart disease. Unlike LDL cholesterol, HDL cholesterol is beneficial since it removes cholesterol from the arteries and transports it back to the liver where it can be eliminated. Therefore the goal is to lower your LDL cholesterol and raise your HDL cholesterol level. Here are some of the best nutritional habits that will help you do just that.
Replace Bad Fats with Good Fats
Not all fat is bad for your heart. Saturated fats found in animal products such as meat and full-fat dairy are the main culprit when it comes to high LDL cholesterol levels. The key is to replace saturated fats with healthier polyunsaturated and monounsaturated ones. Monounsaturated fats are abundant in olive oil, nuts and avocados, while some of the healthiest polyunsaturated fats are found in fatty fish such as salmon, sardines and mackerel.
How can you get the benefits of these healthy fats? Replace red meat and pork with fish and vegetarian sources of protein. There are a variety of soy-based “veggie” meats that make good meat substitutes. Studies show that eating as little as 25 grams of soy protein daily lowers LDL cholesterol level by up to 9%. To improve your cholesterol level think “fish” and “veggie”, and go light on the red meat.
Don’t Skimp on Fiber
Help yourself to some extra fruits, vegetables and whole grains. What these foods have in common is they’re all a good source of soluble fiber – and eating a fiber-rich diet can reduce LDL cholesterol level by as much as 10%. Soluble fiber works by binding to cholesterol in the intestinal tract so it’s excreted rather than absorbed where it could end up clogging the arteries.
Add more soluble fiber to your diet by replacing white bread with whole-wheat bread. Start the day with a bowl of oatmeal or other whole grains such as quinoa and barley that make tasty breakfast cereals. Skip the white rice and choose fiber-rich brown rice instead. Replace starches such as potatoes with a colorful array of vegetables and beans. Beans are not only high in fiber, but they’re a good source of low-fat protein. High-fiber foods are more filling too, which means you’ll eat less.
Reduce Portion Sizes
Feeling a little heavy? Watch your portion sizes to shed extra pounds and help bring your cholesterol level down. Eating a cholesterol-friendly diet works in your favor since cholesterol-friendly foods are usually lower in fat and calories. Walk briskly or jog at least 30 minutes most days of the week. This not only helps with weight loss, it lowers LDL levels and raises HDL – which is good for your heart. Simply eating less has benefits when it comes to lowering your LDL cholesterol.
The Bottom Line?
Make smart nutritional choices. It can improve your cholesterol profile – and lower your heart disease and stroke risk. It’s a simple way to keep your heart healthy and your arteries clean.
Medscape.com. “Thirty-Eight Studies Find Soy Products Lower Cholesterol”
Eur Heart J Suppl (July 2005) 7 (suppl F): F4-F8.
The Journal of Family Practice. June 2007. Vol. 56, No. 6: 483-489.
Merck Manual. Eighteenth edition. 2006.