What Is Cholesterol
Cholesterol is a waxy, fat-like substance and it is found in every cell in your body. In fact, your body needs some cholesterol to produce vitamin D, hormones, and other substances that aid in the digestion of food.
Cholesterol is found in the foods we eat, such as milk, butter, and meat.
It is important to understand that our bodies produce cholesterol from the liver. And that is all the cholesterol our bodies need.
So, it is vital to make sure you have a low cholesterol diet to ensue your health.
Cholesterol is broken down into two types. LDL or bad cholesterol and HDL or good cholesterol. We will tackle each of these next.
HDL- Good Cholesterol
HDL (high-density lipoprotein) is the good type of cholesterol and can actually remove bad cholesterol from your bloodstream.
Good cholesterol lowers your risk of heart disease and stroke.
HDL actually absorbs cholesterol and carries it back to your liver. Your liver then flushes it from your body, ensuring you don’t have excess cholesterol.
LDL- Bad Cholesterol
LDL (low-density lipoprotein) is the bad cholesterol and it causes a buildup of plaque in your arteries.
This can lead to heart disease and vascular issues.
Unfortunately, bad cholesterol makes up most of the cholesterol in your body. Which makes it super important that you maintain a low cholesterol diet and keep an eye on your cholesterol levels.
What Causes High Cholesterol Levels
Now that you understand what cholesterol is, you might be asking, what causes it. Well, this is actually pretty simple and might actually surprise you because they are all factors that you control.
That’s right! When it comes to bad cholesterol, you are in charge.
The main causes of high cholesterol are:
Lack Of Physical Activity
Smoking (or exposure to tobacco smoke)
I do want to point out that you can have a hereditary condition that causes your body to have excess bad cholesterol. This affects about 1 in every 250 adults and it is treated with medication along with lifestyle changes.
How To Lower Cholesterol
As I stated before, if you don’t have an inherited defect, then you can really control your cholesterol.
This is a good thing because, if you have high cholesterol, you can make some smart choices and get it under control. And there are a ton of ways that you can lower cholesterol.
Let’s look at some great ways that you can lower cholesterol levels, many of which can be simple lifestyle changes.
Always Consult Your Doctor
If you have high levels of bad cholesterol, you should always be talking with your doctor on creating a plan that is right for you. They are going to be a great source to tell you what diet, exercise, and lifestyle changes are going to be best for your situation.
We are going to get into more ways that you can lower your bad cholesterol and raise your good cholesterol. Some of these, you doctor might suggest as well.
Avoid Trans Fats
To do this, you need to make sure you are reading your nutrition labels. If you want to learn how to properly read a nutrition label, check out this post.
Many processed foods contain trans fat because it helps the product last longer on the shelf. You might also see these labeled as hydrogenated oil or partially hydrogenated oil.
An easy way to remember this is, if it lasts longer on the shelf, it lasts longer in your arteries.
Trans fat raises your LDL while also lowering your HDL. So, the less trans fats you have, the less it will raise your bad cholesterol.
Choose Low Saturated Fat Meats
The meats you pick can have an impact on your cholesterol. Don’t worry, I’m not telling you to give up meat. Just be sure to reduce the amount of red meat you consume and add more fish to your diet, like salmon, cod, and shellfish.
Fish is low in saturated fat and contain omega-3 fatty acids, which is good for your heart. Plus, it can give your good cholesterol that boost you are looking for.
If fish isn’t your thing, or you want more variety, you can also add skinless chicken or turkey to your diet, that are also low in saturated fats.
Try To Skip The Meat
Try to have a meal each week that is meatless. Don’t let this scare you. Think of it as an adventure to make an awesome, flavorful meal, that just happens to be meat free.
This is going to help you get healthier fats and more soluble fiber in your diet. And when you think about it, one meal a week really isn’t that bad.
My husband and I do this, and I only mention it because my husband likes to have meat with his meals. But, he doesn’t even notice it isn’t there because we are still eating a deliciously filling meal. The Southwest Quinoa Salad is our go to.
Increase Your Soluble Fiber
If you want to lower your bad cholesterol, fiber is the way to go. Soluble fiber is found in oats, whole-grains, quinoa, kidney beans, and lentils. Fresh is always best.
Soluble fiber turns into a gel during digestions, slowing down your digestion. It can reduce your risk of diabetes and improve your cardiovascular health and your cholesterol in the process.
When we grab a snack, many of us are prone to grabbing some chips or cookies. Take a second and think about the snacks you reach for. Are any of them those processed food we should be looking out for?
Instead, just snack smarter.
Choose fruits, veggies, or nuts. Some great options are avocados, apples, oranges, grapes, carrots, peanuts, and pistachios.
Not only are these much better for you, but they can raise your good cholesterol levels while lowering your bad cholesterol levels.
Choose Low-Fat Dairy
When it comes to lowering your bad cholesterol, it might feel as though you have to make a lot of sacrifices. But that doesn’t have to be the case.
You can still get your dairy fix.
Full fat dairy products, such as milk, cheese, and yogurt, have saturated fat. Opting for low-fat or non-fat will greatly reduce the amount of saturated fat you are getting from your dairy products.
So, give them a shot. You have nothing to lose but some bad cholesterol.
When preparing your food, there are several things you can do to help your cholesterol. These may not be your favorite options, but they are super simple and can make a huge impact.
First, trim any fat and remove the skin from any of your meat or fish. Your can do this before cooking or just before eating it. This will reduce your fat intake.
Second, don’t deep fry. We all know deep fried foods are bad for us, so use a different cooking method. Bake, broil, boil, or grill you foo d instead. You want that fried texture, try an air fryer!
Third, use healthy oils, such as olive oil, instead of butter or margarine. Solid fats, like butter are high in saturated fat while healthy oils contain unsaturated fat, which is a healthier option.
Get Some Exercise
We already know that exercise is important for our bodies, so it should come as no surprise that it can also help your cholesterol levels.
Aim for at least 150 minutes of moderate activity each week. If you think about it, that really isn’t that much time. Only 2.5 hours of your time each week.
Ideally, you want to get active every day, so that really breaks up that 150 minutes. So, find some activities that you enjoy and mix up your routine.
Take the stairs instead of the elevator and park farther away from the entrance, so you walk a little bit farther.
Lose Excess Weight
This tip goes hand in hand with getting some exercise. Excess weight has been linked to high cholesterol. If you are overweight, find some ways that work for you to drop a few pounds.
Even small changes can have huge results.
We talked about some small changes that can help get you there, like snacking on fruits and veggies. Take the stairs or go for a brisk walk each night. Finally, get rid of the sugary drinks and opt for water.
For more ideas on how to lose some weight, check out this post.
Tobacco smoke actually raises the levels of bad cholesterol and triglycerides (blood fat) in your bloodstream. This causes plaque buildup in your arteries.
It also lowers you HDL cholesterol. By quitting smoking, you will increase your good cholesterol, which will then help expel your LDL cholesterol.
How To Lower Cholesterol Naturally
If you are looking to lower cholesterol naturally, you can see that we went through many options already on how to do that.
To lower your cholesterol naturally, you really need to focus on making lifestyle changes.
If you want to be successful, you should start with some small changes and continue to build upon them.
For example, start by having one meatless meal a week. Then, add more fruits and vegetable to your diet. Start more of an exercise routine to ensure you get at least 150 minutes of moderate activity each week. Finally, increase your efforts by upping your workout time and planning more healthy meals.
Whatever you decide to do, be sure to have a plan. Write out exactly how you are going to reach your goal. For more information on goals, starting small and building, and lifestyle changes, check out The Starter’s Guide To Health & Fitness.
Cholesterol Lowering Foods
There are many foods out there that can help you lower bad cholesterol and raise good cholesterol. This is a list you definitely want to refer back to and figure out how you can add these into your diet.
The great thing about many of these foods is that they are versatile, meaning you can use them in many different ways!
Eat a bowl of oatmeal or a cereal like Cheerios for breakfast. This gives you 1-2 grams of soluble fiber, which you already know helps lower bad cholesterol.
Whole grains, oat bran, and barley all have soluble fiber as well. This makes them a good option for reducing your risk of heart disease.
Dark Leafy Greens
Vegetables are good for your heart, especially dark leafy greens, such as spinach and kale. Dark leafy greens contain lutein, which is linked to a lower risk of heart disease.
A bunch of studies have shown that eating peanuts, almonds, walnuts, and other nuts is good for your heart. By eating just 2 ounces of nuts a day, you could lower bad cholesterol slightly.
Add this with other healthy food choices can have an even bigger impact. This is the perfect cholesterol lowering food that you can use to replace other unhealthy snacks.
I love avocados. They can be used on so many foods, from topped on tacos, as a standalone snack, made into guacamole, or used in place of mayo.
Avocados are a nutrient dense fruit that is rich in monounsaturated fats and fiber. That means they can help lower bad cholesterol and raise good cholesterol.
Such a magical cholesterol lowering food. Beans take a while for the body to digest, helping you to feel fuller for longer, and they are rich in soluble fiber.
There are so many different kinds of beans that can be used in many different ways. Test out some different beans to find which is your favorite so you can make them part of your diet.
Apples, Strawberries, Grapes, & Citrus Fruits
These are all fruits that are full of pectin. Pectin is a type of soluble fiber that helps to lower bad cholesterol.
Fruits can actually encourage your body to get rid of cholesterol and stops your liver from producing it. This is super helpful for your body if you are eating other foods with higher cholesterol content.
Using oils instead of solid fats, such as butter, margarine, or shortening, can lower LDL. As we talked about earlier, oils, such as olive oil or vegetable oil, have saturated fat rather than trans-fat. That makes it a healthier option and a cholesterol lowering food you should be using in your diet.
Foods With Sterols and Stanols
Sterols and stanols are a substance extracted from plants gum. This substance can absorb cholesterol from food. Many companies are starting to add this to their foods to help with cholesterol levels.
You can also get this as a supplement. But you can find this naturally in fruits and vegetables, as well as some legumes and vegetable oils.
Dark Chocolate and Cocoa
How great is this! Get your chocolate fix and improve your health. Cocoa is the main ingredient in dark chocolate, which can lower LDL. It has also been show to raise HDL.
Keep in mind, you don’t want foods high in sugar, so aim for chocolate with a cocoa content of 75-85% or higher.
I’m sure you have heard before that fish is a cholesterol lowering food that can help you lower your cholesterol naturally. We talked about this a little before as well.
Fish high in omega-3 is great for lowering LDL and by eating fish, you makes it easy to replace meat for that meal.
You already know what fiber can do for your cholesterol, so if you are having problems getting enough fiber from your food, a fiber supplement is a good alternative. Plus, it helps keep you regular.
Another versatile cholesterol lowering food. Not only can it keep away those vampires, but it can keep away those high cholesterol levels. As a bonus, garlic also lowers blood pressure.
Studies have shown that you can have up to 3 eggs a day without it having a negative impact on your cholesterol. And eggs actually consistently raise your HDL, which makes it a good addition to your cholesterol lowering foods.
If you aren’t much of a tea drinker, you might want to give it another chance. Tea contains catechins (which helps activate nitric oxide that is important for a healthy blood pressure), and quercetin (which may improve blood vessel function and lower inflammation). On top of that, it may also help lower your cholesterol and reduce your odds of heart disease.
Low Cholesterol Diet
A low cholesterol diet would contain all of the foods that we just covered. You want to make sure that you routinely eat these foods.
And you want to follow what we talked about in how to lower cholesterol as it related to your low cholesterol diet.
What that means is taking that all into consideration and putting it into practice.
Make sure you make healthier snack choices, remove the fat and skin from your meat, and don’t deep fry your foods. Add in more fruits and vegetables and make sure you are reading the nutrition label, so you don’t consume too much trans-fat.
A low cholesterol diet can take some work, but implementing it a little at a time can help you make your low cholesterol diet stick. Of course, you should always consult your doctor for additional information and whether medication is necessary.
Your Cholesterol Moving Forward
We went over a lot of cholesterol information, so I want to do a quick recap to make sure you remember all the highlights.
As you have learned from all that we have covered here, your cholesterol is vital to your health. You understand that cholesterol is a waxy, fat-like substance that is found in all of your cells. And that your liver produces all the cholesterol your body needs.
You should also know that you want to raise you HDL, or good cholesterol, while lowering your LDL, or bad cholesterol.
We covered what causes high cholesterol, so you know that poor diet, lack of exercise, excess weight, and smoking are the main causes. As well as issues that you can control.
After that, we discussed how to lower cholesterol. This list included tips like getting 15o minutes of moderate exercise a week, read the nutrition label, watch out for trans fats, snack health, and cook healthy.
With this information you know how to lower cholesterol naturally.
I also added a list of cholesterol lowering foods, so you know what foods are important to your low cholesterol diet.
Start putting all of this information into practice today, and start to lower your cholesterol so you can be at your healthiest.