About one-third of Americans – 102 million people aged 20 or older – have higher-than-normal cholesterol levels. Almost 10 percent (35 million) have total cholesterol levels that are 240 mg/dL or higher, which puts them at greater risk of developing heart disease.
For anyone who doesn’t know what their cholesterol levels are, work with your doctor to get these checked.
“Specifically, we no longer focus on total cholesterol, but look at the good (HDL), bad (LDL), and ‘ugly’ (Triglycerides) components of your cholesterol to guide a better understanding of your risk for a heart attack or stroke as well as to guide ways for you to improve upon them,” shares cardiologist Michael Lim, M.D.
“We also work with patients to estimate their 10 year cardiovascular risk – utilizing the cholesterol numbers as well as blood pressure and other pieces of your history. If this risk is elevated, your doctor will likely combine lifestyle changes with a discussion about medications to lower your risk of a heart attack or stroke,” adds Dr. Lim.
Lifestyle changes may help you lower your cholesterol levels to an acceptable range. Eating nutritious foods, exercising regularly, losing weight and quitting smoking all may help decrease your “bad” LDL cholesterol levels and/or increase your “good” HDL cholesterol levels.
Consider the following options:
- Eat more fiber. Fruits, vegetables, beans and whole-grain foods like oats or barley may help to lower your “bad” LDL cholesterol levels.
- Decrease animal fat (saturated fat). Saturated fats – typically found in beef, pork, cheese, butter, chicken skin and coconut oil – can increase your “bad” LDL and total cholesterol levels. For better health, gravitate away from red meat , aiming for leaner cuts of meat, fish and skinless chicken.
- Avoid trans fats. To help lower your “bad” LDL cholesterol levels, reach for heart-healthy oils like olive oil or avocado oil, instead of cooking with partially hydrogenated vegetable oils like margarine. Look at food labels and avoid cookies, crackers and other baked goods containing trans fat
- Go “Mediterranean”. Increasing nuts, avocados and olive oil (monounsaturated fats), may help to lower “bad” LDL cholesterol levels. Also increasing fish (think salmon or tuna), walnuts, flaxseeds and leafy green vegetables (all high in omega 3 fatty acids) may help to lower “bad” LDL cholesterol levels.
While most think that “dieting” is equivalent to weight loss, the above recommendations are all “diets”, but focus on replacing components of what you eat with “healthier” alternatives and are not aimed at primarily reducing weight. That being said, maintaining a healthy weight is also very important for your cardiovascular fitness and health.
The age-old advice of routine exercise coupled with limiting your portion size (i.e. overall number of calories consumed) remains the best long-term solution for obtaining and maintaining a healthy weight.
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The material provided through HealthU is intended to be used as general information only and should not replace the advice of your physician. Always consult your physician for individual care.