I'm Dr. Frita, an MD who has been triple board certified, and today we're talking bad cholesterol. I'm giving you 10 quick ways to improve your cholesterol numbers! Now, why should you even care about improving your cholesterol levels? If you have high cholesterol it can lead to clogged arteries, which can then lead to heart attacks, strokes, and poor circulation. So we want to lower the unacceptable cholesterol levels. But keep in mind that not all cholesterol is not bad. In fact, we actually need some cholesterol to survive.
Cholesterol helps us to make certain hormones like testosterone, as well as estrogen. It also helps us to make cell membranes and to produce vitamin D. But when you have excessive poor cholesterol that's when you get the bad news. If you've been told in the past that you have high cholesterol your physician has probably talked to you about medications, and we do have excellent medications for lowering cholesterol, but guess what? We also have excellent lifestyle modifications that can help you to lower your cholesterol as well and that's what we're talking about today.
The Different Types Of Cholesterol
You've probably heard about the different types of cholesterol: good cholesterol, bad cholesterol, LDL, and HDL. So let's talk about what these numbers mean. Now, there is something that we consider good cholesterol and that is the HDL, high-density lipoprotein. And remember H stands for "high". We want the HDL to be high because it's actually good. Consult with your physicians to find out what your number should be. But certainly, if the number is greater than 60 for your HDL, that's wonderful but the range could be anywhere from 35 to 80.
You may have heard of LDL or low-density lipoprotein. LDL is considered "bad" because high levels can lead to inflammation. We want to keep LDL levels low. It can cause high cholesterol that sticks to your blood vessels and causes heart disease. Again, you want to consult with your physician to find out your target LDL number. But less than 100 milligrams per deciliter is one of the common goals for an LDL.
There are also other nasty cholesterols that we want to be low such as:
- VLDL or very low-density lipoprotein
- IDL intermediate-density lipoprotein
What Is Cholesterol?
Cholesterol is this waxy, fatty material that floats around in your blood vessels when it's in excess. When it combines with inflammatory cells, platelets, and calcium, it can bind to an inflamed blood vessel. This can cause an atheroma, or it can cause a plaque that can lead to an occlusion or a blockage of the blood vessel.
So what happens if you get a cholesterol-laden plaque in your heart artery? It could lead to a heart attack. If you get it in a brain artery or a brain vessel, it can lead to a stroke. If the arteries that supply blood to your legs are affected, it can lead to poor circulation and hinder proper blood flow. So it is very important to have proper cholesterol numbers and you want to lower poor cholesterol levels. So let's talk about it. Here are 10 quick ways to improve your cholesterol numbers.
10 Ways To Improve Your Cholesterol Numbers
Tip One: Eat A Heart-Healthy Diet
In order to improve your cholesterol numbers you want to eat a diet that's high in soluble fiber, antioxidants, minerals, and omega-three fatty acids. You want to eat foods that are going to help you absorb the bad cholesterol while maintaining the good cholesterol. You also want to avoid eating certain foods such as saturated fats and trans fats.
Foods To Avoid In Order To Improve Your Cholesterol Levels
It is advisable to avoid fried foods, such as french fries, fried chicken, and fried fish. You also want to avoid commercially baked goods like cookies, cakes, and pies. In addition, you should steer clear from cooking with shortening (avoid cooking with oils that are solid at room temperature).
Heart Healthy Foods To Incorporate Into Your Diet
Again, you want to eat foods that are high in fiber, and high in antioxidants. Chia seeds are an excellent choice to include in your meals. Chia seeds are loaded with antioxidants so they're anti-inflammatory and good for absorbing cholesterol.
Including leafy green vegetables and cruciferous vegetables such as cabbage, broccoli, kale, and Brussels sprouts, in your diet is highly beneficial. These nutrient-rich greens offer a myriad of health benefits that can help lower your cholesterol numbers and enhance your overall well-being.
Including other nutritious options such as berries (like blackberries and raspberries) and bananas is a good choice. Additionally, incorporating avocados, oats, and cooking with oils like extra virgin olive oil are recommended for a well-rounded diet. I say extra virgin olive oil because that means that it's processed less and you have more of the antioxidants.
Tip Two: Reduce Saturated Fats and Trans Fats In Your Diet
Now, first, let me just let you know fat does have its place. It's not all bad. We need fat to help protect our organs, and we need fat in our bodies to help us regulate body temperature, but we don't need excess fat. When it comes to food, fat in the food can actually improve the texture or even enhance the flavor in some cases. But now let's talk about the bad fat that you eat.
Trans fats come mostly from partially hydrated oil and trans fats increase bad cholesterol and LDL. So it's important to make sure you avoid foods that contain trans fats.
Saturated fats also increase your poor cholesterol and one helpful way to identify saturated fats is to use the acronym SAT. If it has SAT then it's likely a saturated fat and it can increase your bad cholesterol. You want to avoid it!
S - "Solid" at room temperature
A - comes from "Animal" sources like red meat
T- "Tropical" oils like coconut oil or palm oil
Now, you don't want to completely cut out all fat from your diet but you do want to make sure that you are controlling the amount of fat and choosing the right fat. You don't want to cut out things like nuts and seeds because they're good for your heart health as well.
Healthy Fats To Eat In Order To Improve Your Cholesterol
You want to eat unsaturated fats like monounsaturated fats, as well as polyunsaturated fats because these actually help you to improve your cholesterol numbers.
Some examples of monounsaturated fats include oils like olive oil, sesame oil, peanut oil, avocado oil, peanut butter, and many nuts and seeds.
Polyunsaturated fats include things like soybeans, tofu, sunflower seeds, Chia seeds, and flaxseeds. It is important to include omega-3 fatty acids in your diet. Fatty fish are a great source of polyunsaturated fats.
How To Switch Out Bad Fats For Good Fats
Here are some healthy tips on how to switch out bad fats for good fats. When you are cooking, make sure you cook with oils that are liquid at room temperature. Remember the monounsaturated fats and the polyunsaturated fats. These tend to be liquid at room temperature as opposed to those trans fats and saturated fats which are solid at room temperature.
Try adding flaxseed to your diet. You can easily add flaxseed to your yogurt or salads and make sure you snack on nuts. Nuts that have some of these healthy fats in them. Avoid really creamy dressings and even try making your own dressing. Use vinegar, olive oil, garlic, and things of that nature in order to avoid some of these bad fats.
Tip Three: Increase Soluble Fiber In Your Diet
Soluble fiber helps you to absorb that inferior cholesterol like LDL while still allowing you to maintain your good cholesterol like HDL. If you're considering fiber supplements or unsure about the soluble fiber content in a particular food, simply check the food label. The nutrition label will indicate the grams of soluble fiber it contains. Certain foods are rich in soluble fiber including bran, flaxseeds, oats, beans, raspberries, blackberries, and bananas.
Tip Four: Regular Exercise
When you exercise, it helps you to maintain a healthy weight and build healthy habits. And we know that being overweight or living with obesity puts you at higher risk for high cholesterol. According to the American Heart Association, most adults should be exercising for at least 150 minutes per week. So that's about 30 minutes a day for at least five days a week.
Consult with your physician before starting an exercise program. You may be someone who likes HIIT training (high-intensity interval training) and that may be something that helps you. Also exercises like walking or swimming, and you don't have to always be going to a gym. You can even choose to use the stairs instead of using the elevator or take a long walk around your neighborhood.
Tip Five: Maintain A Healthy Weight
If you are a person who is living with obesity that will increase your risk of having high cholesterol and consequently having clogged arteries, increasing your risk for heart disease, strokes, and poor circulation. So in addition to the exercise already mentioned, you also want to make sure that you have a healthy diet that is high in protein, green leafy vegetables, and fruits and other vegetables. And that you eat the calories that are appropriate for your body. Be sure to consult with your physician to find out what weight is a healthy weight for you.
Now, historically, we have used BMI. BMI is a determinant of whether or not a person is overweight or living with obesity. But there are also other ways to determine your healthy weight, like body composition. Once again, you'll want to consult with your physician to find out various ways to help you reach your weight goals so that you can have good cholesterol numbers. Be sure to watch my video on Ozempic for weight loss. Is it the ultimate holy grail or just a risky gamble? After you finish reading this article.
Tip Six: Quit Smoking
Please quit smoking cigarettes. If you look at practically all disease processes and then you scroll down and you find out the risk factors, you will find that smoking cigarettes is on just about everyone's list. Smoking cigarettes increases the risk of heart disease, lung disease, lung cancer, and cervical cancer. And yes, smoking cigarettes is a risk for having high levels of poor cholesterol. So you want to quit.
Cigarettes actually increase the inflammation within your blood vessels and when you have high cholesterol it loves sticking to inflamed blood vessels. Having inflamed blood vessels will put you at a higher risk of having these atheromas or atherosclerotic plaques, which can lead to clogged arteries and cardiovascular disease.
Quite honestly, nicotine addiction is very, very strong. There is a center in the brain that makes it physiologically very difficult to quit smoking when you have that physical addiction as well as a psychological condition. So I recognize that it's not easy to quit smoking, but there are different counseling processes. There are even certain medications that can help, like nicotine patches. Make sure you consult with your physician because you definitely want to stop smoking cigarettes in order to improve your cholesterol levels.
Tip Seven: Limit Alcohol Consumption
When it comes to high cholesterol, sometimes you can "blame it on the alcohol". It's for real. Now, I know that alcohol is associated with just about every social and festive event, but when drinking alcohol in excess especially if you're binge drinking, drinking daily, or if you're exceeding the recommended amounts for what's considered a safe amount of alcohol consumption, this can increase your risk for high cholesterol and ultimately cardiovascular disease.
In order to learn the recommended amounts of alcohol in ways that you can safely limit your alcohol consumption be sure to watch my video on the dark side of alcohol after you finish reading this article.
Tip Eight: Use Plant Sterols and Stanols
Plant sterols and stanols have an especially interesting role when it comes to controlling bad cholesterol. These are compounds that are naturally occurring in plant-based foods and they actually look and act like cholesterol. But if you eat these plant-based foods that are high in plant sterols and stanols that can actually help you to lower your bad cholesterol. Some foods that are high in plant sterols and stanols that you should definitely incorporate in your diet to help improve your cholesterol numbers include broccoli, red onions, carrots, corn, and spinach.
Tip Nine: Consider Omega-3 Fatty Acids
Omega-3 fatty acids have been associated with lowering bad cholesterol. They help to absorb unfavorable cholesterol, decrease inflammation in your blood vessels, and help you to get better cholesterol numbers. Foods that are high in omega-3 fatty acids include fatty fish like salmon, mackerel, and sardines. Also, nuts can be loaded with omega-3 fatty acids.
Tip Ten: Manage Your Stress and Get Proper Sleep
Now, of all of the tips I've given you on improving your cholesterol numbers, many of you will find this one the most challenging because there's stress coming from everywhere. From the left, from the right, from school, from the news, and from world events, just to name a few. We always have some type of stress. So how do you manage it? Well, one thing you can do is learn to control what you can control, and for the things that are completely out of your control, don't spend your time worrying about them and stressing out because when you stress out, about things that you can't change any way that increases your stress hormones like cortisol, adrenaline, and it causes a tightening of the blood vessels. It can lead to increased inflammation in your body and ultimately it's not good for your cholesterol.
Also, you want to get proper sleep. Most people require anywhere from seven to nine hours of sleep a night. You want to make sure you consult with your physician to find out what sleep is appropriate for you, but when you get good amounts of sleep, it is restorative. Not just restorative for your body, but also restorative for your mind and it's good for your overall health.
Tips for Reducing Your Stress Levels
Here are some valuable tips for managing stress, along with a reminder to let go of those things that you can't control.
Meditation does not mean just sitting in a corner and being quiet while you think about your "things-to-do list" or you think about a funny joke that you heard. No, meditation means clearing your mind and really getting yourself in a place where you have peace and where you are okay with just being still.
Doing things like yoga can help you practice slow, deep breathing. These breathing practices can help with reducing stress.
Plan to get to events early so you're not stressed out trying to find a parking space or running trying to figure out where you're supposed to be or breathing and sweating once you rush into the event where your mind's not really right.
Keep A To-Do List
If you have a list of things that you need to do, try breaking it down into small manageable pieces. That way, when you complete one task, it's easy to check off the list and get started on the next.
These are just a few of the ways to improve your cholesterol numbers and the list is not exhaustive. There are more lifestyle modifications that can help. Remember, you absolutely want to consult with your physician because depending on what your numbers are, your physician may want you to have a medication like a statin, which can help to reduce your cholesterol and help to prevent cardiovascular disease.
Also, there are some cases when even when you're doing all the lifestyle modifications you may be someone who has a genetic predisposition to high cholesterol. You may have FH or familial hypercholesterolemia. Talk with your doctor and ask about your family history. When dealing with cholesterol, you want to be proactive. Consult with your primary physician and find out when you should first get your cholesterol levels checked. Even if the cholesterol is not very high, you want to make sure that you implement some of these lifestyle modifications so that you prevent having high cholesterol and you can help to prevent heart disease, strokes, and poor circulation which could lead to amputations. For more details on how cholesterol works in your body, be sure to watch my video on cholesterol symptoms, risk factors, and treatment.