By Lauren Dimitrov, RDN, MPH, LDN
Did you know that September is National Cholesterol Education Month? It’s important to maintain your cholesterol levels because high cholesterol increases your risk of heart disease and heart attack. Thankfully, with the help of your physician or registered dietitian, your diet and other lifestyle changes can help you reach and maintain your cholesterol goals.
Cholesterol is a fat-like substance found in your body and in many foods. Your body needs some cholesterol to make hormones, vitamin D, and substances that help you digest foods. Our body naturally produces plenty of cholesterol, but many foods also contain it.
There are two kinds of cholesterol that travel through your bloodstream: LDL and HDL. LDL is known as “bad” cholesterol because too much can lead to a buildup of cholesterol in your arteries. HDL is known as “good” cholesterol because it works in unison with your liver to remove excess cholesterol from your body.
There are several lifestyle choices you can make to maintain healthy cholesterol levels:
Eat heart healthy foods
- Incorporate healthy fats, leaner meats, low-fat dairy, and monounsaturated fats – found in olive and canola oils – into your diet.
- Eliminate trans-fats, which increase LDL and lower HDL, from your diet. Trans-fats are common in processed foods and labeled as “partially-hydrogenated oils.” Look for this term on the ingredient’s list of products.
- Eat foods rich in omega-3 fatty acids such as salmon, mackerel, walnuts, almonds, and flaxseed as these decrease triglycerides and reduce blood pressure.
- Increase the amount of high fiber foods in your diet, such as oats, fruits, and vegetables, which helps lower LDL levels.
Exercise and be physically active most days of the week
- Exercise improves cholesterol by raising your HDL levels. Exercising for just 10 minutes several times per day can help improve your cholesterol levels and maintain a healthy weight.
- If you smoke – quit! Within just 20 minutes of quitting, your blood pressure and heart rate decrease. Within one year, your risk of heart disease is half that of a smoker.
Sometimes healthy lifestyle changes aren’t enough to lower cholesterol levels. If your doctor recommends medication to lower your cholesterol, take it as prescribed, but continue with your lifestyle changes. Everything you do to improve your health matters!