According to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, more than 94 million U.S. adults have total cholesterol levels at or above 200 mg/dL, which is one of the leading causes of heart attack, stroke and other cardiovascular conditions. Cholesterol is a waxy, fat-like substance that’s created naturally by your body and increased by certain foods.
While your body requires some cholesterol to produce hormones, vitamin D and other digestive substances, excess amounts can build up within the walls of your blood vessels. This plaque can obstruct and even block blood flow to the heart and other major organs.
What is Healthy Cholesterol?
Total cholesterol is measured by the overall amount of high-density lipoprotein (HDL), low-density lipoprotein (LDL) and triglycerides in your blood. Triglycerides are a type of lipid (fat), created by excess calories stored in fat cells to be used later for energy.
HDL, known as “good cholesterol” protects your heart by transferring extra cholesterol and plaque from your blood to the liver where it’s removed from the body. LDL, known as “bad cholesterol” causes plaque to buildup within the artery walls, blocking blood vessels and increasing your risk of heart attack. This kind of cholesterol production is triggered by a diet high in saturated and trans fat.
The good news is that cholesterol levels can change over time. According to Integris Health, men typically see increases in their cholesterol as they age and tend to have higher levels throughout their lifetime. Whereas, women’s cholesterol typically increases during menopause.
A complete cholesterol test, also known as a lipoprotein or lipid profile, can show your LDL, HDL, triglyceride and total cholesterol levels. Ideally, you want each of your levels to be in the “good range,” meaning your risk for heart disease is low. Here’s a breakdown of each category’s levels, measured in milligrams per deciliters (mg/dL).
|High||240 +||N/A||160 +||200 +|
|Good||< 200||40 +||< 100||< 150|
How to Reduce High Cholesterol
While family history, gender, age and other conditions play a role, there are various lifestyle changes you can make to reduce your cholesterol. Three of the most common areas to tackle are nutrition, physical activity and smoking.
Exercise plays a significant role in maintaining healthy cholesterol levels. Low activity can increase triglycerides and just 30-60 minutes of moderate cardio a day can boost your HDL levels. Smoking, on the other hand, lowers your HDL levels and raises your LDL cholesterols.
If your cholesterol is high, smoking significantly increases your risk of heart disease so we recommend trying to quit. If you or a loved one needs assistance with this, the American Cancer Society offers a variety of free resources.
The Key Factor: Nutrition
Next up is nutrition. As mentioned in an earlier section, the biggest thing you’ll need to tackle is saturated and trans fat. Saturated fats are commonly found in cheese, whole milk and red meat such as beef, pork or lamb. As a rule of thumb, limit your intake of saturated fats and replace them with heart-healthy alternatives such as olive oil, avocado, flax, nuts and seeds. Another tip is swapping red meat for lean protein like fish or chicken.
It’s not just about swaps, though. There are also some foods that can help lower your cholesterol. Bran, brown rice and oats are some of the best choices because they contain plenty of soluble fiber, which boosts HDL cholesterol. Vegetables like eggplant and okra are high in soluble fiber while fruits like apples and strawberries are rich in pectin (another type of soluble fiber) that helps lower LDL cholesterol.
5 Heart Healthy Cooking Swaps
If you’re struggling with high cholesterol, your lifestyle change may require more than a quick swap of cooking oil. We don’t know about you, but our team loves dishes like pizza and tacos. Taking this into consideration, we’ve developed a list of heart-healthy cooking swaps! This allows you to still eat food that delights your taste buds while also taking care of your body.
Instead of toast, bagel or cereal for breakfast, start your day with a bowl of oatmeal. Or, bypass the dinner breadbasket for a serving of whole grains like brown rice, quinoa or barley.
Crust, sauce and cheese contain a lot of salt while cured meats like pepperoni and sausage make it worse. Try your hand at homemade pizza using a whole-wheat crust, low-sodium tomato sauce and skim mozzarella cheese! Top with sliced bell peppers, mushrooms and other vegetables.
Similar to pizza, most sandwiches contain high-sodium ingredients like bread, cheese and cold cuts. Try loading up your sandwich with veggies like tomato, peppers and lettuce. Then, skip the cheese and add hummus or avocado.
Did you know that some varieties of canned soup have as much as 940 mg of sodium per serving? Opt for lower-sodium varieties or make a large batch of homemade soup at home (swapping salt with one of these natural alternatives).
White flour tortillas (8-inch diameter) can contain as much as 400 mg of sodium. We haven’t even got started on the salted meat, beans cheese and other ingredients. For a quick swap, use whole-grain corn tortillas which just 5 mg of sodium each). Then, fill with grilled chicken or white fish, low-sodium beans, and chopped vegetables.
With these small cooking swaps, you can still enjoy your favorite foods while seeing major improvements in your health! Focus on implementing one alternative a day and building up from there. With regular exercise, a low-sodium diet and routine heart scans, you’ll be on your way to achieving and maintaining healthy cholesterol levels. To learn about our heart scans and how we can help you take control of your health. Reach out to our team today at (918) 203-8000.