Lifestyle changes are a terrific way to address high cholesterol. As a registered dietitian-nutritionist, I’ll walk you through some things you can do. But keep in mind that some people are genetically wired to produce cholesterol in excess.
If that’s the case, it can be more challenging for you to normalize your numbers by diet alone. The suggestions below are a few ways to get started and intended for a general audience. You may need more detailed and specific guidance based on your particular health issues.
- Achieve and maintain a healthy weight. Target a body mass index (or BMI) between 18.5 and 24.9. If you are above this level, weight loss of 10% of your current weight may help to lower your cholesterol. . As part of this process, eliminate highly processed foods and move to consume a whole foods diet rich in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and legumes daily.
- Eliminate high-fat meat and dairy products. Saturated fat is a big contributor to cholesterol production. It is found mainly in animal products. This includes meat – beef, pork, lamb, chicken, fish – as well as dairy products, such as milk, yogurt, cheese, ice cream, and butter. The lower the fat content, generally the lower the saturated fat. Red meats tend to have more fat. Certainly poultry, fish, low-fat milk, and low-fat cheese are healthier choices. A diet that included low-fat dairy and fish could be helpful.
- Eat high fiber foods daily. A certain type of fiber, soluble fiber, is especially helpful. It binds with cholesterol in your intestine and eliminates it with your stool. This type of fiber is found in oats, flax seeds (not the oil), apples, beans, and barley, among other foods.
- Another very good idea is to eat nuts regularly.
Along with changes in your diet, be sure to discuss cholesterol goals with your physician or another healthcare worker. As you may know, there are several measures that are looked at: total cholesterol, low-density lipoproteins (LDL), and high-density lipoproteins (HDL). LDL is considered a risk factor for heart disease, while HDL is considered beneficial. In deciding whether to prescribe medication or keep you on meds, your doctor will look at these numbers, along with your age, your medical history, your family medical history, and other factors.
Bonus points: By following a healthy diet as described above, you can not only lower your cholesterol but also strengthen and support your immune system.
For a deeper dive into everything you need to know about cholesterol, please visit our Cholesterol 101 article >>
Esther Trepal is a retired registered dietitian who spent the majority of her career working with people affected by chronic illnesses; including HIV/AIDS, cancer, diabetes, and heart disease. Through individual counseling as well as community presentations and lectures, Esther’s focus was on maximizing the impact of diet to support the well-being of her clients. She graduated with an MS from Columbia University in New York City in 2001.