Unless you’re a child, you’ve probably heard cautionary tales from your doctor about the dangers of high cholesterol. It has been linked to heart-related conditions such as atherosclerosis and an increased risk of heart attack or stroke. Cholesterol is a critical component in evaluating your heart health, so if your doctor has ever ordered blood work for you as part of a routine exam, it probably included information about your blood cholesterol levels.
If you aren’t familiar with how cholesterol works, it is a waxy substance that moves through your bloodstream to different parts of the body that need it to form new cells. Although your body must have a certain amount of cholesterol, the liver already produces all the cholesterol you need, which means that consuming foods with high amounts of cholesterol could cause excess cholesterol to build up in your blood vessels and cause blockages. To minimize this risk, it’s important to keep your LDL (low-density lipoproteins) low and your HDL (high-density lipoproteins) high. You can usually accomplish this by eating a low cholesterol diet and getting plenty of exercise.
Dietary Guidelines for Lowering Cholesterol
For most people who don’t have hereditary conditions that cause high cholesterol, dietary changes can help lower bad cholesterol (LDL) levels and increase good cholesterol (HDL) levels. Meal plans that focus on heart health, such as diets recommended by the American Heart Association and the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute, will generally help improve cholesterol levels.
These eating plans focus on reducing saturated fats to no more than 5% to 6% of your daily calorie intake and trans fats to zero or at least very minimal levels. This generally means eating very little red meat and avoiding dairy products made with whole milk, such as many cheeses. Instead, your meals should include plenty of heart-healthy poultry, fish and nuts for protein as well as whole grains, fruits and vegetables. Fish containing high levels of omega-3 fatty acids make the best option.
Only healthy oils like vegetable oil should be used and only occasionally. The amount of cholesterol consumed in a day should not exceed 200 milligrams. Incorporating foods with high levels of soluble fiber into your diet is also a great choice. High-fiber diets have reduced cholesterol levels by up to 10% in some people. Sodium has been linked to high blood pressure and is another ingredient to limit when choosing your foods.