Cholesterol is a fat-like, waxy substance that helps your body make cell membranes, many hormones, and Vitamin D. The cholesterol in your blood comes from two sources: the food you eat and your liver. Your liver makes all the cholesterol your body needs and other fats are carried in your bloodstream as spherical particles called lipoproteins.
Eating a Heart-Healthy Diet
From a dietary standpoint, the best way to lower your cholesterol is to reduce your intake of saturated fat and trans fat. The American Heart Association recommends limiting saturated fat to less than 6% of daily calories and minimizing the amount of trans fat you eat.
Reducing these fats means limiting your intake of red meat and dairy products made with whole milk. Choose skim milk, low-fat, or fat-free dairy products instead. It also means limiting fried food and cooking with healthy oils, such as vegetable oil.
A heart-healthy diet emphasizes fruits, vegetables, whole grains, poultry, fish, nuts, and non-tropical vegetable oils, while limiting red and processed meats, sodium, and sugar-sweetened foods and beverages.
Many diets fit this general description. For example, the DASH (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension) eating plan promoted by the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute, as well as diets suggested by the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the American Heart Association, are heart-healthy approaches. Such diets can be adapted based on your cultural and food preferences.
Making a few changes to your diet can help bring your numbers to healthy levels. Avoid or limit foods that contain these types of fats:
- Saturated fats: Animal-based products increase LDL cholesterol. Red meat, whole-fat dairy, eggs, and vegetable oils like palm and coconut oil are all high in saturated fat.
- Trans fats: Manufacturers produce these artificial fats through a chemical process that turns liquid vegetable oil into a solid. Foods high in trans fats include fried foods, fast foods, and baked goods. These foods are low in nutrition and can raise your LDL cholesterol.
On the other hand, certain foods can help either lower LDL cholesterol directly or block your body from absorbing cholesterol. These foods include:
- Whole grains, like oats and barley
- Nuts and seeds
- Healthy oils, like sunflower, safflower, avocado, and olive oil
- Fatty fish, like salmon, mackerel, and herring
- Fruits, like apples, pears, and berries
- Products fortified with sterols and stanols, like orange juice and margarine
Smoking and vaping lower HDL cholesterol.
Worse still, when a person with unhealthy cholesterol levels also smokes, the risk of coronary heart disease increases more than it otherwise would. Smoking also compounds the risk from other risk factors for heart disease, such as high blood pressure and diabetes.
By quitting, smokers can lower their LDL cholesterol and increase their HDL cholesterol levels. It can also help protect their arteries. Non-smokers should avoid exposure to secondhand smoke.
Increase Physical Activity
Exercise is not only good for losing weight but moderate amounts of it may also help lower your LDL cholesterol. Aerobic exercises, such as running, cycling, jogging, and swimming, appear to have the best chance at lowering LDL while reducing the risk of cardiovascular disease.