10 Tips for Lowering Cholesterol Without Medication.
Reduce your risk of heart disease with these 10 tips for lowering cholesterol without medication.
Heart disease is the number one cause of death in the United States. We have known for years, that lowering cholesterol levels has proven to reduce the risk of heart disease.
However, there is inconsistent information about cholesterol, and consequently, a lot of confusion when it comes to understanding what the numbers really mean.
What is cholesterol?
Cholesterol is a type of fat circulating in the blood. Our livers make cholesterol that our bodies use to protect nerves and build cells. Additionally, we get cholesterol from the foods we eat. For example, animal products, such as meat, dairy products, eggs, and poultry, all contain cholesterol.
Animal products also contain saturated fats which cause the liver to produce more cholesterol.
When there is too much cholesterol in the blood, it begins to form plaques that narrow the artery walls. Consequently, blood cannot flow through these narrowed arteries, and a heart attack or stroke can result.
Not all cholesterol is bad
Your total cholesterol number is a sum of these different types of cholesterol:
- HDL or High-Density Lipoprotein is often called the “good” cholesterol since it acts to remove other cholesterol from your arteries by moving it to your liver to be used or excreted.
- LDL or Low-Density Lipoprotein is the “bad” cholesterol since it builds up and collects on the artery walls which can lead to a blockage.
- VLDL or Very Low-Density Lipoprotein is similar to LDL. It carries triglycerides in the blood. Triglycerides are another type of fat storage made up of unused calories. Triglycerides also contribute to the narrowing of artery walls and heart disease.
What do the numbers mean? What is “ideal”?
Values are listed in mg/dL (milligrams per deciliter) and are fasting results.
|Total cholesterol||HDL cholesterol||LDL Cholesterol||Triglycerides|
|Ideal||Less than 200 (but the lower the better)||Ideal is 60 or higher; 40 or higher for men; 50 or higher for women is acceptable||Less than 100; below 70 if coronary artery disease is present||Less than 149; ideal is <100|
|Borderline to moderately elevated||200–239||n/a||130–159||150–199|
|High||240 or higher||60 or higher|
160 or higher; 190 considered very high
|200 or higher; 500 considered very high|
|Low||n/a||less than 40||n/a||n/a|
Cholesterol Ratio and Non-HDL Cholesterol
In addition to the above numbers, your risk of heart disease may be better assessed by your cholesterol ratio or your non-HDL cholesterol.
Cholesterol ratio is the ratio of your total cholesterol to your HDL cholesterol. For example, if your total cholesterol is 200 and your HDL cholesterol is 50 then your ratio is 200:50 or 4:1. The higher the ratio the higher the risk for heart disease. Optimal Cholesterol ratio is < 4:1.
Non-HDL cholesterol number is the difference between your total cholesterol number and your HDL cholesterol number, in other words, all the bad cholesterol. For example, if your total cholesterol is 200 and your HDL cholesterol is 50, then your Non-HDL cholesterol is 150. Optimal Non-HDL cholesterol is 130 mg/dL.
How to improve these numbers and reduce your risk of heart disease…
1. Lose Weight
Obesity is directly related to heart disease. Even a small amount of weight loss protects your health, therefore you don’t have to achieve your ideal body weight to reap health benefits.
Overweight adults with an elevated BMI are at increased risk for heart disease. BMI or body mass index is a measurement of body fat based on height and weight.
Determine your BMI:
To determine your BMI, in the table below, find your height in the left column and follow across to the right until you reach your weight. The number at the top of that column is your BMI.
In the example below, someone who is 5’7″ and weighs 172 pounds, has a BMI of 27.
Ideally, a desirable BMI is between 19-25, however, BMI’s up to 27 are considered acceptable.
Fad diets are not the answer.
They are not sustainable and may even be harmful. For instance, the popular Keto diet yields quick weight loss, but it is very high in fat and is counterproductive to lowering cholesterol levels.
The best way to lose weight is to change your habits. For example, look at your usual intake and start by making one change at a time. For instance, perhaps start by decreasing portions. Eating just 500 fewer calories per day results in a loss of one pound in a week. In other words, one less dessert per day could make a difference.
2. Eat foods high in omega-3 Fatty Acids
Omega-3 fatty acids can improve the risk of cardiac or heart disease. Studies have shown that consuming a diet high in omega-3s has reduced major coronary events by 19%.
Foods high in omega 3 fatty acids include:
- Fish, especially salmon, mackerel, tuna, herring, and sardines
- Nuts and seeds, such as flaxseed, chia seeds, and walnuts
- Plant oils, including flaxseed oil, soybean oil, and canola oil.
Plan to include these foods daily, and consume fish three times per week.
3. Increase soluble fiber
Dietary fiber is the undigested portion of carbohydrates that is not absorbed by the body. Fiber is classified as insoluble or soluble.
Insoluble fiber such as found in whole-grain foods, bran, nuts, and seeds, passes through the digestive tract and is responsible for digestive regularity.
Soluble fiber such as found in some fruits, vegetables, oats, and barley, lowers cholesterol by decreasing its absorption and increasing its secretion.
Food sources of soluble fiber include:
|Food||Soluble fiber content (grams)|
|Black beans, 3/4 c cooked||5.4|
|Lima beans, 3/4 c cooked||5.3|
|Avocado, 1/2 med.||4.2|
|Sweet potato, 1 c cooked||3.6|
|Turnips, 1 c cooked||3.4|
|Broccoli, 1 c cooked||3.0|
|Carrots, 1 c cooked||2.4|
|Brussels sprouts, 1/2 c cooked||2.0|
|Oats, 1 c cooked||1.9|
|Barley, 1 c cooked||1.6|
|Pears, 1 med.||1.5|
|Blueberries, 1 cup||1.1|
Plan to incorporate these foods into your diet. The recommended intake of fiber is 25-30 grams per day with about 25% or 6-8 grams of soluble fiber per day.
4. Increase Plant Sterols or Phytosterols
Plant sterols are a group of substances found in plant cell membranes. Plant sterols resemble cholesterol in structure, therefore, they block cholesterol from being absorbed by competing with cholesterol in the digestive system. Consuming plant sterols has been shown to lower total cholesterol by up to 10% and LDL cholesterol by up to 14%.
The FDA (Food and Drug Administration) states:
“Foods containing at least 0.65 gram per serving of vegetable oil plant sterol esters, eaten twice a day with meals for a daily total intake of at least 1.3 grams, as part of a diet low in saturated fat and cholesterol, may reduce the risk of heart disease.”Food and Drug Administration
Food sources of phytosterols are:
- Oils (olive oil, soybean oil)
- Nuts and Seeds, (pistachios, cashews, almonds, macadamia nuts, sesame seeds, sunflower seeds)
- Legumes, (soybeans, kidney beans)
- Fruits (apricots, strawberries, pears)
- Vegetables (onions, radishes)
In addition, some food companies have begun to fortify foods with phytosterols.
Try to add plant sterols to your diet to improve cholesterol levels
5. Eat more almonds
Some studies have found almonds are helpful in managing elevated cholesterol and reducing the incidence of heart disease. For example, almonds have been shown to lower total cholesterol, LDL cholesterol, and triglycerides, but not impact HDL levels
The health benefit of almonds may be related to their fat composition as well as their fiber and Vitamin E content.
According to this study, the recommended intake of almonds is about 45 grams/day or about 30 almonds.
6. Avoid saturated and Trans fats
Fats found in foods of animal origin are saturated fats. Saturated fats are also found in processed foods that contain coconut or palm oils. For example, cookies, packaged baked goods, and non-dairy creamers may contain coconut or palm oil.
Some processed foods also have hydrogenated fats or trans fats. These tend to increase LDL and lower HDL. Therefore it is important to look for these ingredients on the label.
Lower your saturated fat intake by making these substitutions:
|Instead of this…||Choose this….|
|Butter||corn, canola, olive oils, avocado|
|Meat||Fish, tofu, plant proteins, legumes, nuts|
|Cheese||Cheese made from skim milk|
|Milk||Almond or Soy milk|
|Lunch meats, bacon, hot dogs||Avoid|
|Ice Cream, Pie, Cake, Cookies||Sherbet, fresh fruits|
7. Increase probiotics
Probiotics are living microorganisms. Some studies have found that probiotics have a cholesterol-lowering effect possibly due to their ability to bind cholesterol in the small intestine.
Probiotics are found in:
- yogurt (lactobacillus bulgaricus)
- dark chocolate with >70% cacao
- kimchi (lactobacillus kimchii)
- Olives (lactobacillus plantarum)
Because of their cholesterol lowering affect, try to include probiotics in your diet.
8. Limit alcohol
Drinking too much alcohol can increase your risk of heart disease. Alcohol contributes to obesity and elevating triglyceride levels in your blood.
Triglycerides, like LDL cholesterol, are bad fats and contribute to the narrowing of the artery walls.
Consequently, alcohol intake should be limited.
9. Stop smoking
Smoking damages your arteries and blood vessels increasing the chances of cholesterol build-up. According to the CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention), smoking increases triglycerides and lowers HDL, the good cholesterol.
Therefore, you should stop or not start smoking, to reduce your risk of heart disease.
10. Get Active
Exercise is essential in lowering cholesterol levels and reducing the risk of heart disease. Exercise helps increase HDL or good cholesterol. According to an article in the New England Journal of Medicine, regular exercise, even without weight loss, can significantly improve cholesterol levels.
Further findings show that the amount of exercise appears to make a greater difference in HDL levels, than the intensity of the exercise.
Exercise uses calories that would otherwise be stored as fat.
The best exercises for lowering cholesterol are:
|Exercise||Moderate||Moderate to Vigorous|
|Brisk walking or jogging||3-4 mph||6 mph|
|Biking||less than 10 mph||14-16 mph|
The American Heart Association recommends:
30 minutes of moderate exercise 5 days a week for overall heart health
40 minutes of moderate to vigorous exercise 3-4 days a week for lowering cholesterol.
Get active to lower cholesterol, reduce weight and improve cardiac health.
Making changes with your diet, and increasing your activity level, are necessary steps toward lowering your cholesterol levels and reducing your risk of heart disease.
Lifestyle changes that encompass all 10 tips for lowering cholesterol will improve your overall health and may help avoid the need for medication.