Has you doctor told you that you have high cholesterol? If so, was he in a hurry to put you on some kind of cholesterol-lowering medication? Did she discuss with you other methods of lowering your cholesterol. The good news is this – if your cholesterol is high, you can take steps to lower it, naturally.
What Your Numbers Mean
We used to assess a person’s risk for heart disease by only looking at the total cholesterol number. Heck, people used to openly compare them as a party conversation piece! Nowadays, we know that one’s risk for cardiovascular disease and stroke is based on so many factors, including a more comprehensive lipid panel, waist circumference, blood pressure, and blood sugar level. If you haven’t had a check-up in a while, it’s time to get to the doctor and know your numbers.
Here’s what you’re looking for:
- Total cholesterol: <200
- LDL: <100 (“bad” cholesterol)
- HDL: >50 (“good” cholesterol)
- Triglycerides: <150
- hs-crp: <1 (measure of inflammation in the body)
- Fasting blood sugar: <100
- Hemoglobin A1c: 4-6% (measure of long-term blood sugar control)
- Blood pressure: <120/80
- Waist circumference: <35 in.
Functional Foods that Lower your Cholesterol
Consider that a 1% reduction in your LDL (bad cholesterol) is associated with a 1-3% decrease in cardiovascular disease (CVD) risk. Maximal application of these functional foods can result in an estimated reduction of LDL by 25-30%.
OMEGA-3 FATTY ACIDS
You’ve no doubt heard the recommendation to eat 2 servings of fish per week. More specifically, you should be eating fish rich in omega-3 fatty acids, fish like wild Alaskan salmon, wild Pacific halibut, mackerel, sardines, black cod/ sablefish, tuna, and trout. These omega-3 fatty acids are powerful antiinflammatory agents, which can help to lower your cholesterol, LDL, and triglycerides, as well as improve your insulin sensitivity and blood pressure. One serving of fish is 6 ounces.
- 2 grams per day can reduce LDL by 10%
- Plant sterols and plant stanols are found in margarine (i.e., Promise, Benecol), fortified orange juice, and yogurt. Look for “plant sterols and stanols” or “phytosterols” in the ingredients.
VISCOUS SOLUBLE FIBER
Like a sponge, this special fiber soaks up water and cholesterol in the intestine and is then excreted. Consuming 5-10 grams per day is recommended.
- Beta-glucan soluble fiber – found in whole oats or barley. Aim for 3 grams daily .
- Psyllium seed husk – build up to 10.2 grams of psyllium husk (about 7 grams fiber). Found in psyllium powder supplement (i.e., Metamucil).
- Gums – found in legumes (beans, lentils)
- Pectin – found in fruits such as apples and pears
- Highly nutritious vegetable source of protein, fiber, vitamins, minerals, and essential omega-3 fat. No cholesterol and very little saturated fat. Consume 25 grams per day for heart health.
- Ideal Sources: soy beans, tofu, soy milk, tempeh
- About 1-1.5 ounces per day recommended for heart health.
- Best choices include almonds, walnuts, and pistachios
Other Lifestyle Changes that Lower Cholesterol
- Exercise – Regular physical activity reduces cholesterol, blood sugar, and blood pressure. The calorie deficit you create through exercise (provided you’re not making up for it by eating more….) will help you lose weight, which also helps to lower your cholesterol and raise your “good” cholesterol (HDL). Make sure to get a combination of cardiovascular and weight training.
- Reduce Stress – Stress contributes to heart disease by increasing your blood pressure and stiffening your arteries. Practicing stress reduction techniques, like meditation, deep breathing, and yoga will help to calm your mind and increase blood and oxygen flow through the body.
- Sleep – Inadequate sleep promotes weight gain, especially the dangerous belly fat. Poor sleep causes your body to release more stress hormones, as well as increase the hunger hormone ghrelin, and decrease the fullness hormone leptin. Aim for 7-8 hours of uninterrupted sleep each night.
- Supplements – If you’ve ever walked into a health food store or pharmacy, you’ve likely seen the endless bottles of supplements making all sorts of health claims. And yes, there are some very good ones out there, including those that can assist your healthy lifestyle changes in reducing your risk of cardiovascular disease. But take caution and do not play doctor – always consult with a doctor or Registered Dietitian who specializes in supplements so that you get the type and dosage that’s appropriate for you.
Of course, never stop taking any medication, including cholesterol-lowering medications, without first discussing your options with your doctor. If your doctor is not a proponent of lifestyle changes, then it’s time to find one who is. In addition, consult with a Registered Dietitian who specializes in wellness and cardiovascular disease, so that you can get the best possible advice that’s personalized for your needs.