Here’s an all-too-familiar scenario you may have already encountered:
You visit your doctor for a physical and she orders a cholesterol test as part of your baseline lab work. You hate needles and think to yourself, “I’m in perfect health, but I guess I’ll do that blood test anyway, since I’m already here.” You survive the needle, go home with a band aid on your arm, and forget about the whole thing. A few days later, you receive a call from the doctor’s office giving you the news — your cholesterol is so elevated that the doctor wants to see you in person to discuss it.
You beg the receptionist to squeeze you in the following week for an appointment, while sweating bullets because you are afraid you’re going to literally drop dead at any moment due to plaque build-up in your blood vessels. Finally, the day of the appointment arrives and the doctor tells you that you have two choices:
- Lose weight, exercise, and change your diet in a significant way
- Start taking a cholesterol-lowering medication
What?! A pill?! You hate pills. In fact, you’re not even sure you can swallow them. Sure, you know that you may have put on a few extra pounds, and you’ve stopped exercising since the birth of your twins…16 years ago. But thankfully, you haven’t needed a pill until now. Plus, you’ve heard all kinds of hoopla over the cholesterol medications and you are deathly afraid of those, too. What to do? How do you opt for option number 1 – you haven’t got the first clue where to start lowering your cholesterol on your own without medications? Well, let’s learn about some strategies you can implement on your own to lower your cholesterol in today’s episode.
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What Is Cholesterol?
When your doctor orders a “cholesterol test,” she’s looking for a few numbers:
- LDL: Your “bad” cholesterol, the one that is notoriously known to be associated with heart disease if left untreated over a long period of time. (So you can relax now, you are not going to drop dead today). For most healthy people without diabetes, heart disease, or kidney disease, the LDL goal is less than 130.
- HDL: Your “good” cholesterol. Exercise and weight loss helps increase this number (you want it to be as high as possible, preferably over 40).
- Triglycerides: This is another type of “bad” cholesterol that tends to be elevated in people who consume high fat or high carbohydrate diets. The goal for most adults is less than 150.
- Total Cholesterol: A combination of both your good and bad cholesterol
Why care about your cholesterol?
As we have alluded to earlier, it causes plaque buildup. It can clog your arteries and cause heart disease, heart attacks, strokes, and peripheral arterial disease (clogged blood vessels in your legs), to name a few unpleasant and deadly conditions.
10 Strategies to Lower Your Cholesterol without Medication
So now that we know it’s important not to ignore your high cholesterol, we need to learn strategies that help lower it. (But wipe off the sweat dripping down your chin because it is not typically an emergency situation, either). If you opt to lower your cholesterol on your own, without medication, discuss it with your doctor first, then consider the following 10 strategies:
- Limit Total Cholesterol: Do not consume more than 100mg of total cholesterol daily. Read food labels so you can keep count of your intake. If you don’t know how to read food labels, consider asking your doctor for a referral to a dietician.
- Limit Saturated Fat: When reading those food labels, pay close attention to the saturated fat content. Saturated fat should comprise no more than a maximum 5% of your total daily calories, which for most people is about 10 grams a day.
- Avoid Trans Fat: Trans fat is found mostly in processed foods, fried foods, desserts, and sweets. Your diet should contain as little trans fat as possible in order to lower your cholesterol.
- Limit Carbohydrates: Eat a balanced diet with no more than ¼ of your plate comprised of carbohydrates, and choose complex carbs that are more efficiently metabolized – such as brown rice and whole wheat breads and pasts, rather than white. Avoid sweets altogether. Lower carb intake will help you lose weight, along with lowering your triglyceride cholesterol and, in turn, your LDL.
- Eat Non-Fat Dairy: When selecting dairy, opt for non-fat options of milk, cheese, yogurt, etc.
- Eat Plant-Based Protein: For at least one protein source a day, opt for a soy-based option rather than an animal-based source – such as veggie burger, tofu, soy beans, etc. This is why some vegetarians have excellent cholesterol panels – they consume little animal proteins.
- Increase Fiber: Adults require a minimum of 5 servings of fruits and veggies a day, which are good sources of fiber. Fiber is also found in some fortified cereals, whole wheat breads, oats, and barley. Aim for 25 grams of fiber a day. If you have difficulties consuming this amount, then consider supplementing with psyllium powder or fiber supplements.
- Lose the Extra Pounds: If you are overweight, work to lose those extra pounds. This is best achieved through exercise and a healthy, well-balanced diet. “Dieting” is only temporary – most patients who diet regain the weight eventually. It needs to be a true lifestyle change to really make a difference in your overall health.
- Exercise: Perform a minimum of 30 continuous minutes of cardiovascular exercise (where your heart is pumping and you are sweating) for most days of the week (that means at least 4). Get-Fit Guy has tips on how you can get reap health benefits by working out for just 12 minutes a day!
- Limit Alcohol: Alcohol is a large source of calories and is often high in fat and triglyceride content. Even one glass of wine a day is an extra 100 calories that you can do without. Limit alcohol intake and when you do drink, choose red wine. See also Nutrition Diva’s episode on Red Wine and Cholesterol for more.
So now that you know what to do, get cookin’ (using plant-derived oils, of course) – because your doctor likely wants to follow your progress with another cholesterol panel in 3-6 months.
Were you diagnosed with high cholesterol? If so, how did you lower it? Share it with us in the comment section below.
Please note that all content here is strictly for informational purposes only. This content does not substitute any medical advice, and does not replace any medical judgment or reasoning by your own personal health provider. Please always seek a licensed physician in your area regarding all health related questions and issues.