Cholesterol is a naturally occurring waxy substance in your body needed to help build healthy cells, make hormones, and vitamin D. While your liver produces about 800 milligrams per day—a large egg contains 187mg—if you have too much in your blood, it can lead to cardiovascular disease.
High levels of cholesterol can be caused by eating processed foods, lack of exercise, and genetics. You can also be predisposed to having high cholesterol due to your age, race, weight, and heredity.1
While there are medications available to reduce your cholesterol, there are also foods and lifestyle changes that can also be effective.
While there isn’t always an apparent sign or symptom that your cholesterol is high, a blood test can measure your level. Those who are between 20 and 44 years old should have a test every 5 years. Men between 45 and 65 and women between 55 and 65 should have it measured every 1 to 2 years.
For men and women 20 years and older, a healthy cholesterol level should fall between 125 mg/dL and 200mg/dL.
How Cholesterol Travels Through Your Body
Cholesterol, as well as other fats, are transported throughout your bloodstream via lipoproteins. They are known as high-density lipoproteins (HDL), low-density lipoproteins (LDL), and very-low-density lipoproteins (VDL).
Types of Cholesterol
- HDL: Also known as “good cholesterol” carries cholesterol from different areas of the body back to the liver where it is removed from the body.
- LDL: This type is considered to be “bad cholesterol” because it increases your risk of heart disease and vascular problems when because it can harden and lead to a buildup of plaque in your arteries.
- VLDL: Another type of “bad cholesterol.” VLDL leads to a buildup of plaque in your arteries, but unlike LDLs that carry cholesterol, VLDLs primarily transport triglycerides, which are the most common fat in the body.2 High levels of triglycerides in your body may increase your risk of heart disease.
Ways to Naturally Lower Your Cholesterol
There are simple changes that you can make to lower your cholesterol without medication. These include a healthy eating plan, weight management, and exercise.
Eliminate Trans Fats
All-natural oils and fats are made up of monounsaturated,3 polyunsaturated, and saturated fatty acids.
Trans fats are unsaturated fatty acids that are created during partial hydrogenation of vegetable oil. It is sometimes listed on food labels as partially hydrogenated vegetable oil. Margarine, processed cookies, cakes and pastries often contain trans fats.
In addition to raising cholesterol levels, trans fats have been linked to cardiovascular diseases, breast and colon cancer, diabetes, obesity, and shortening of the pregnancy period.4
The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has banned using partially hydrogenated vegetable oils as of Jan. 1, 2021.
Limit Saturated Fats
Whether you should consume saturated fats has been the topic of debate for years. And though the American Heart Association hasn’t stated that they shouldn’t be consumed, they have recommended that they should make up only 5% to 6% of your total daily caloric intake.5
Saturated fats can increase LDLs, putting you at a higher risk for heart disease. Saturated fats are found in high levels in baked goods and fried foods.
They can also be found naturally in fatty beef, lamb, poultry with skin, butter, cheese, and other dairy products. Plant-based oils such as coconut, palm, and palm kernel oils also contain saturated fats but do not contain cholesterol.
Choose Healthy Fats
Monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats are considered healthy fats. They are an essential part of a balanced diet. They can help to reduce harmful cholesterol levels in your blood, lowering your risk of certain diseases.
Monounsaturated fats can be found in plant-based foods and oils such as nuts, avocados, olives, olive oil, canola, peanut, safflower, and sesame oil.
Polyunsaturated fats are healthier than trans fats and can help to lower bad cholesterol levels.6 And foods containing polyunsaturated fats usually provide additional nutrients. They can be found in sunflower, corn, soybean, and flaxseed oils, as well as walnuts, flax seeds, and fish.
Eat Fiber-Rich Foods
The FDA recommends that we consume 25 grams of fiber daily for a 2,000 calorie diet, adjusted based on our calorie needs.7 Unfortunately, only 5% of Americans8 are meeting the daily requirements.
Fiber is a carbohydrate found in plant foods. There are two kinds: soluble and insoluble.
Soluble fiber slows digestion so that you can avoid food spikes and stop fats from being absorbed, in turn, lowering cholesterol. Some sources are oatmeal, legumes, cruciferous vegetables (e.g., broccoli), and fruits such as apples and pears.
Insoluble fiber helps to move food through your digestive system and increases stool bulk which normalizes bowel movements. You can find it in wheat bran, whole wheat flour, nuts, beans, and veggies such as cauliflower, potatoes, celery, and cucumbers.
Manage Your Weight
What we eat and how much we consume influences how our bodies process cholesterol. A study published in the Journal of the American Heart Association found that a diet rich in walnuts decreased LDL and increased HDL.9
Furthermore, weight loss—even when moderate—can have a significant positive effect on cholesterol levels.
In a study of 401 overweight and obese adults who were a part of a weight loss program from 2003 to 2011, it was found that those who lost as little as 5-10% showed remarkable reductions in LDL, triglycerides, and total cholesterol.10
Move Your Body
The current recommendations11 state that you should get 150 to 300 minutes of moderate exercise weekly, or 75–150 minutes per week of vigorous-intensity aerobic physical activity or a combination of the two.
Additionally, it would be best if you strength trained at least two times weekly.
Physical activity has many benefits, including helping to lower your cholesterol. And while experts are not completely clear12 about the mechanisms, it seems that exercise enhances your muscles’ ability to use lipids and fats instead of glucose, which reduces lipid levels.
Furthermore, in a recent review,12 it was found that exercise improved low HDL numbers plus how they function. It seems that HDL helps to move cholesterol to the liver, where it can be excreted. Additionally, LDL levels were reduced and HDL: LDL ratios were also positively affected.
Forms of Aerobic Exercise
- Taking a brisk walk
- Jogging or running
- Playing your favorite sport
- Using a stair climber or elliptical
Forms of Strength Training
- Pull ups
- Push ups
- Weight lifting
- Using dumbbells or resistance bands
While these suggestions aren’t a replacement for speaking with your healthcare provider, eating healthier, managing your weight, and exercising can improve health. If you are new to working out, speak with your health provider before starting.
Author: Cheryl S. Grant