With the right foods, enough exercise, and weight loss, you may avoid the need for cholesterol-lowering medications.
As nasty a reputation as it has, cholesterol is actually needed by your body. It helps create new cells, transmit nerves, and produce hormones. But don’t go grab a cholesterol-laden burger just yet. Because your liver produces all the cholesterol you need? So when you add cholesterol to your body by eating a diet high in cholesterol, you’re getting more than you need. This extra cholesterol sticks to your artery walls and causes them to harden, which puts your body at risk for heart disease and stroke.
Though you could consume all cholesterol in your path and trust your fate to cholesterol-lowering medication, there is a better way to live life. With the right diet, weight management, and plenty of exercise, you can actually keep your cholesterol under control without the pharmacy.
What Goes In
A diet high in saturated fats, trans fats, simple sugars, and cholesterol from animal-based foods will instantly raise your cholesterol levels. Eat a breakfast of bacon, sausage, and eggs cooked in butter; a lunch made of processed, packaged simple sugars; and a big steak dinner with an ice cream sundae for dessert, and you may as well kiss your cholesterol levels goodbye, because they’re going to skyrocket.
However, lowering cholesterol doesn’t just mean avoiding certain foods. It also means eating more heart-healthy foods: healthy fats, fatty fish high in omega-3 fatty acids, fiber-rich foods, and nuts are a good start. A diet combining these foods may work just as well as medication, but without the expense and negative side effects.
You should also substitute saturated fats, butter, lard, and vegetable oil with healthy fats such as olive oil or canola oil. Rather than beef or pork every night for dinner, eat fish two to three nights a week. And instead of processed snack foods eat high-fiber options such as fruits, veggies, and whole grains. You can also snack on almonds, walnuts, and other nuts to cut your cholesterol.
Of course, you shouldn’t forget about beverages. Green tea contains compounds that work to lower low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol. Since this is the bad kind of cholesterol, this is a good thing. Additionally, drinking alcohol in moderation has been shown to raise your good cholesterol—high-density lipoprotein (HDL)—a bit. Just be careful. Drink more than one (women) or two (men) drinks a day, and you’ll wind up negating any potential health benefit.
Moving and Sweating
Besides diet, exercise is the second most effective way to reduce cholesterol without medication. Exercise helps you lose weight and decrease your LDL, while increasing the production of enzymes that remove LDL from the blood. Getting up and about also raises your HDL lessens the chance that cholesterol will be able to clog your arteries.
When it comes to controlling cholesterol, vigorous exercise is better than moderate exercise, though moderate exercise is better than none. Aim to get at least 30 minutes of exercise most days of the week.
The final part in managing cholesterol on your own is maintaining a healthy weight. Being overweight increases your cholesterol levels. This may be because those who are overweight tend to eat foods high in cholesterol and saturated fat. Obesity may also be related to high cholesterol, since many obese people don’t get enough exercise. Don’t let this be you!
If you’re genetically predisposed to high cholesterol or if you have a medical condition that raises cholesterol, medication may be necessary. But it may not. Work with your physician to ensure you take the best steps for a healthy today and tomorrow.
Twice the Cholesterol
Wondering what that LDL and HDL stuff is? Well, there are two types of cholesterol: low-density lipoprotein (LDL or “bad”) and high-density lipoprotein (HDL or “good”) cholesterol. LDL clogs arteries, whereas HDL does the exact opposite, working to rid the blood of cholesterol.
Too much LDL and too little HDL leads to high blood pressure. You may not know you have high blood pressure, so it’s vitally important for all adults over 20 to get their cholesterol levels checked every five years with a simple blood test.
You’re in the safe zone if your total cholesterol measures less than 200 mm/Hg. Over 240 and you have high cholesterol. Optimal LDL should measure less than 100. If yours is over 190, it’s way too high. But high numbers aren’t all bad, because you actually want high HDL readings. You want to have no less than 40 mm/Hg HDL, with the optimum amount being over 60.
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