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Take Control of Your Cholesterol

Jan 3 2021
6 min read
Close-up of hand in meditation position on leg.

You know that you need to control your cholesterol levels to cut your heart disease risk.

But since cholesterol isn’t something we can see or feel, like weight gain, it’s easy to forget about it and focus instead on increasing the speed on the treadmill or decreasing the number on the scale. The dangers of high cholesterol may not be immediately noticeable to you, but it takes a toll on your body, upping your risk for heart disease and even a heart attack or stroke.

While genetics can also play a role in cardiovascular disease risk, research has shown that healthy lifestyle changes can help prevent and treat these conditions. The National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute suggests updates including changes in diet, nutrient intake, and physical activity, to reduce your risk by improving cholesterol levels.

Read on for eight suggestions to help manage your cholesterol. Remember that making any change, big or small, takes time and effort. Choose the healthy habits that fit best for you, and then work them into your daily life one by one.

Eliminate Trans Fats

Trans fats are man-made compounds that have been shown to elevate bad cholesterol (LDL) and lower good cholesterol (HDL). In 2015, the FDA mandated that companies remove partially hydrogenated oils (PHOs), the major source of artificial trans fat in the food supply, from their processed foods.

Despite the ban on PHOs, the FDA says trans fats may still be in some products, including stick margarines, vegetable shortenings, creamers, and packaged baked goods and sweets. And while nutrition labels are now required to include the amount of trans fats in packaged foods, those numbers can be deceiving: Even products claiming “zero trans fats” can, by law, have up to half a gram per serving.

Dial Down Saturated Fat

Found mainly in animal foods such as dairy and meat, saturated fat has been shown to increase LDL and total cholesterol. If you enjoy these foods, try to eat them in moderation and favor leaner proteins, such as poultry, more often. Swapping out animal proteins for plant-based proteins, such as beans, soy, lentils, and other legumes can further reduce your saturated fat intake and have a positive effect on your cardiovascular health.

Make Room for Fish

The omega-3 fatty acids found in fish have been shown to increase HDL and decrease triglycerides. They also help bring down the inflammation in the body that can lead to heart disease. Fatty fish like salmon, herring, and sardines are some of the best sources for omega-3s. You can also get them from omega-3 enriched eggs, ground flax seeds, canola oil, and other inflammation-fighting foods.

Eat Nuts Often

Consuming nuts regularly has been shown to reduce LDL and total cholesterol, as well as triglycerides in people with elevated numbers. What’s more, eating nuts has been linked to a decreased risk of developing type 2 diabetes. Incorporate walnuts, almonds, pecans, or another favorite variety into meals and snacks. Limit servings to one ounce each (roughly 24 almonds or 15 walnuts, for example). Nuts, while good for you, are high in calories and fat. Good fats are still fats, so practice moderation.

Season With Spices

Herbs such as cinnamon, ginger, red pepper, rosemary, and turmeric have anti-inflammatory benefits that may help lower cholesterol levels and improve heart health. They’re also an antioxidant-packed, virtually calorie-free way to boost the flavor of your meals and snacks without upping the sodium or fat content. Cinnamon tastes great atop oatmeal, and fresh ginger makes a stir-fry sing. Add rosemary to baked squash for a new taste dimension, sprinkle red pepper flakes to tomato sauce for an extra kick, and try turmeric on steamed or roasted cauliflower to give it an Indian-inspired twist.

Choose Whole Grains

Swapping processed grains for unrefined whole grains can help put a dent in your cholesterol numbers. Whole grains are rich in fiber, which binds to bad cholesterol in the intestinal tract and helps transport it out of your body. Opt for brown rice, whole wheat breads, and pastas in place of their white counterparts. You can add variety and disease-fighting antioxidants to your diet by giving whole grains such as quinoa, millet, buckwheat, and amaranth a place on your table.

Eat Garlic

Keep your toothbrush handy — several studies have found that the “stinking rose,” as garlic is sometimes called, may help lower cholesterol levels. A high level of antioxidants and sulfur compounds are thought to be responsible for garlic’s heart-healthy benefits. To see an effect, include one half to one whole clove in your diet per day. Add garlic to your cooking or try eating roasted cloves solo.

Get Moving and Try Meditating

Regular aerobic activity helps move bad cholesterol out of the body as well as increase good cholesterol. The more vigorous the exercise, the greater the impact, but it’s most important to choose something you enjoy so you’ll stick with it. While it won’t help you break a sweat, meditation is also linked with improved LDL levels. Download a meditation app and listen to it on your train ride home from work or before you go to sleep.