Did you know that over 102 million American adults have high cholesterol? Do you also know that September is National Cholesterol Education Month? This makes now the perfect time to get your cholesterol levels checked and learn more about how you can keep your cholesterol down.
What is Cholesterol?
Before we delve any further, let’s start off with what cholesterol is.
Cholesterol is a fat-like substance that is needed in your body to make hormones, vitamin D, and is found in every cell in your body. It plays a role in the way your cells communicate with each other and maintains the integrity of your cell membranes so your body can function properly. However, when too much cholesterol builds up, these deposits can narrow your arteries and put you at risk for heart disease and stroke.
There are two types of cholesterol in your body:
- High-density lipoprotein (HDL) is considered the “good” cholesterol as it has heart healthy benefits. Your goal for HDL cholesterol is >40 mg/dl.
- Low-density lipoprotein (LDL) is considered the “bad” cholesterol as this can clog your arteries, thus increasing your risk for heart disease. Your goal for LDL cholesterol is <100 mg/dl.
Risk Factors for High Cholesterol
Your cholesterol levels can depend on several factors such as your family history, age, gender, and lifestyle choices. Lifestyle choices include a diet high in fat and processed foods, smoking, and being sedentary. Age, gender and family history are not modifiable, but lifestyle choices can be modified to lower your risk of high cholesterol. If you choose healthful foods and start to exercise, you can positively affect your cholesterol levels!
7 Tips To Keep Your Levels In Check
- Choose more healthy fats – Choose monounsaturated fats and omega 3 fatty acids instead of foods that are high in saturated fats. Monounsaturated fats include olive oil, almonds, and avocado. Omega 3 fatty acids are found in fish (salmon, tuna), flaxseeds, and walnuts. One easy swap to make can be cooking with olive oil instead of butter.
- Switch to spices/herbs – Enhance your food’s flavor by using herbs and spices instead of butter, which is high in saturated fat. Cumin, turmeric, basil and cilantro can be added to most dishes and will add a lot of flavor!
- Increase your fiber – Fiber plays a big role in lowering your cholesterol levels because of it’s ability to help your body excrete it. It binds with cholesterol in your body and then takes it through the rest of your digestive tract, not allowing your body to absorb it. You can increase your fiber by adding more fruits, vegetables, and whole grains into your diet. Swap any white, refined grains for whole grains for an easy increase in fiber.
- Exercise Regularly – The American Heart Association recommends you get at least 30 minutes of exercise 5 days a week for optimal heart health. Exercise plays a role in decreasing your LDL levels and increasing your HDL levels, and decreasing your overall risk for cardiovascular disease.
- Quit Smoking – Smoking is a major risk for cholesterol, and heart disease. Smoking allows cholesterol to stick more easily to artery walls.
- Eat More Fruits and Vegetables – Fruits and veggies are rich in soluble fiber, which can help the body eliminate cholesterol. They also contain antioxidants, which may play a role in keeping your heart healthy and reducing your risk of heart disease.
- Know Your Family History – If cholesterol or heart disease runs in your family, you might be at risk! Try to follow a healthy lifestyle to reduce your risk and get routine physicals!
You have the ability to positively affect your cholesterol levels; it is all in your power! If you modify the fats in your diet, add fiber and increase exercise, you should see a change in your cholesterol levels.
Your turn to take action: What changes will you make this month to help lower your cholesterol levels? Let me know in the comments below!