By EatingWell Editors
If you have high cholesterol you aren’t alone: nearly half of all American adults have high cholesterol. Not all cholesterol is bad. In fact, your body makes its own and uses it for many important functions, such as producing cells and certain hormones. However, too much of this waxy substance in the blood clogs arteries.
Cholesterol is carried through the blood in molecules called lipoproteins. The two most commonly discussed in relation to heart health are low density lipoproteins (LDL) and high density lipoproteins (HDL). LDL (bad) deposit cholesterol inside your arteries. HDL (good) carry cholesterol to the liver to dispose of it or recycle it for future cell and hormone production, which makes it less likely that excess cholesterol in the blood will be dumped in the coronary arteries where it can build up.
Your genes determine how much cholesterol your body produces naturally. The rest comes from the foods you eat. EatingWell recommends taking the following steps to help prevent, or lower, high blood cholesterol levels.Next: Cut Back on Saturated Fat » [pagebreak]
Saturated fats increase LDL cholesterol. Keep your intake of saturated fat to less than 7 percent of your total daily calories. (If you eat 2,000 calories per day, this is less than 15.5 grams of saturated fat.) The main sources of saturated fat are whole milk and full-fat dairy products, butter, red meat, chocolate and palm oil.Next: Watch Out for Trans Fat » [pagebreak]
Manmade trans fats are created when manufacturers add hydrogen to vegetable oil – a process called hydrogenation. Trans fats increase the shelf life of foods, but are more harmful to your lipid levels than saturated fats. It’s important to keep trans fats to less than 1 percent of total calories (under 2 grams if you’re eating 2,000 calories per day) because these fats not only raise LDL cholesterol but also lower HDL cholesterol. Many experts say there is no safe level and recommend avoiding trans fats entirely.
Most of the trans fats in the American diet are found in commercially prepared baked goods, margarines, snack foods, processed foods and commercially prepared fried foods.Next: Keep Cholesterol Low » [pagebreak]
Limit your intake of cholesterol from food to less than 300 mg per day. If your LDL is high, you have heart disease or you’re taking a cholesterol-lowering medication, it’s best to consume less than 200 mg of cholesterol per day. Foods high in cholesterol include liver and other organ meats, egg yolks and full-fat dairy products.Next: Replace Saturated Fats with Healthier Ones » [pagebreak]
Most of the fat in your diet should come from unsaturated fats (polyunsaturated and monounsaturated). Both polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fats may help lower your blood cholesterol level when you use them in place of saturated and trans fats in your diet. Keep total fat to less than 35 percent of total calories, or below 78 grams for 2,000 calories.
Polyunsaturated fats are found in certain plant oils – safflower, sesame, soy, corn and sunflower-seed oils. Omega-3s, a type of polyunsaturated fat, are found in fatty fish like salmon, tuna and mackerel. Olive, canola, sunflower and peanut oils contain monounsaturated fats, and so do avocados.Next: Exercise » [pagebreak]
Regular physical activity can help lower triglycerides and LDL cholesterol and raise HDL cholesterol levels, as well as help you to maintain (or lose) weight. Try to get at least 30 minutes of activity on most, if not all, days.Next: Keep Weight in Check » [pagebreak]
Along with a healthy diet, regular physical activity can help to improve blood cholesterol levels too. It’s especially important to lose weight if you have a cluster of risk factors for metabolic syndrome and obesity-related conditions (e.g., heart disease, high blood pressure and diabetes). Risk factors include high triglycerides and/or low HDL levels, you are overweight and a waist measurement more than 40 inches (men) or 35 inches (women).Next: Eat More Fiber » [pagebreak]
Increasing your total daily fiber intake is always a good idea, but when it comes to lowering cholesterol soluble fiber really counts: studies show that increasing soluble fiber by as little as 5 to 10 grams per day can reduce LDL cholesterol by 3 to 5 percent. How? Soluble fiber is gel-like when it dissolves in the intestines and binds some of the dietary cholesterol in the gut, making it unavailable for absorption.
Soluble fiber is found in foods such as oatmeal, kidney beans, Brussels sprouts, apples, pears, barley and prunes. Eating 1½ cups of cooked oatmeal provides 3 grams of soluble fiber.Next: Consider Adding Plant Sterols to Your Diet » [pagebreak]
Studies show eating 2 grams of plant sterols daily may reduce cholesterol significantly when part of a diet low in saturated fat and cholesterol. The American Heart Association recommends these only for people who actually have high levels of LDL cholesterol. Eating them won’t prevent you from developing high cholesterol.
Plant sterols are a class of micronutrients present in small amounts in many fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, cereals, legumes and vegetable oils, and they help block the absorption of cholesterol. Foods that are fortified with sterols are now available. (You’ve probably heard of Take Control and Benecol spreads.)