The first step in lowering your cholesterol: Know that the word “cholesterol” itself shouldn’t inspire panic. In fact, it’s as natural to our bodies as blood itself — we use cholesterol to form cell membranes, create hormones and perform all sorts of important bodily procedures.
We even make it ourselves — about 1,000 milligrams of it — every day. Some foods contain cholesterol, like egg yolks, meats and whole-milk dairy, but most of it is made by the body.
Two types of lipoproteins, molecules that carry cholesterol and other substances through the blood, determine your cholesterol levels:
HDL cholesterol, or good (“helpful” cholesterol), takes excess cholesterol to the liver, where it’s passed from the body. It may also remove excess cholesterol from plaque, slowing its growth. High levels of HDL seem to protect against heart attack, and low levels indicate a greater risk of heart attack and, possibly, stroke.
LDL cholesterol, or bad (“lazy”) cholesterol, rather than carrying excess cholesterol to your liver, simply deposits it in the blood, leading it to build up in your arteries. High levels mean an increased risk of heart disease, while lower levels reflect a lower risk.
Unfortunately, part of your risk of high cholesterol is out of your control. Some types run in families, and the balance of HDL and LDL can strongly depend on your age and sex. However, you have almost complete control over two huge factors in cholesterol health: Diet and exercise.
Here are some quick and easy ways to get and keep your cholesterol levels in a healthy range.
READ A LABEL
First and foremost, you must watch trans-fat intake. This fearsome fat has been found to raise LDL more than anything else you eat (including cholesterol itself)! The American Heart Association says you shouldn’t eat more than 2 grams of trans fats per day. Be careful: The FDA allows food manufacturers to claim that foods have “0 grams of trans fat” when 1 serving of the product contains less than 0.5 grams of trans fats. The only way to be sure is to check the ingredients list for any mention of “partially hydrogenated” oils — they’re the source of all things trans fatty.
DRINK SOME WATER
A Loma Linda University study found that drinking 5 or more glasses of water a day could help lower your risk of heart disease by 50 to 60 percent—the same drop you get from cutting out cigarettes, lowering LDL, exercising or losing weight!
ORDER A PAIR OF WALKING SHOES
A sedentary lifestyle leads to weight gain, which is associated with increased LDL and decreased HDL. The Mayo Clinic advises working up to 30 minutes of exercise a day, but advises that exercising in 10-minute intervals several times a day can be an effective jump-start to weight loss.
HAVE A GRAPEFRUIT
Eating a single white or ruby red grapefruit each day can lower your total cholesterol and LDL levels by 8 and 11 percent, respectively. Grapefruit can fight heart disease and cancer, trigger your body to lose weight, and even help you get a better night’s sleep!
POUR SOME CHEERIOS
Eat more oat bran fiber, such as oatmeal or whole-grain cereals. The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition reports that eating two servings of whole-grain cereal — yes, Cheerios count! — per day can reduce your risk of dying from heart disease by nearly 20 percent!
SIP GREEN TEA
Several studies show that drinking green tea can help lower your cholesterol level. Vanderbilt University researchers found that drinking the equivalent of seven cups of green tea a day can help lower LDL cholesterol levels by 16 percent. But even a cup or two daily can have a benefit.
ORDER THE CHEF’S SALAD
Leafy greens and egg yolks are rich sources of lutein, a phytochemical that transports antioxidants which battle heart disease to the heart and brain.
PICK UP A BENECOL SPREAD
No matter whether you buy butter or margarine, you’ll end up with either saturated fat or trans fat. Better to go with Benecol spread, which contains a plant substance that inhibits chemical absorption; it can actually lower your LDL cholesterol. A study at the Mayo Clinic found that people eating 4 ½ tablespoons of Benecol daily lowered their LDL cholesterol by 14 percent in 8 weeks.
REACH FOR SOME NUTS
Replace your carb-rich snack with nuts and you could reduce your risk of heart disease by 30 percent! A Harvard study found that’s what happened to people who replaced 127 calories of carbs — that’s 14 Baked Lay’s potato chips — with one ounce of nuts daily. A separate 2013 report printed in the New England Journal of Medicine, which found that people who ate a handful of nuts daily were 20 percent less likely to die from any cause over a 30-year-period!