September is National Cholesterol Education Month making it a perfect time to discuss various ways to lower your cholesterol levels naturally. Here’s a look at 4 things you can do daily keeping your cholesterol levels in check and helping reduce your risk for cardiovascular disease.
What is cholesterol?
You may not know this but your body requires cholesterol. This waxy fat-like substance is found in foods you eat but is also made by the liver. Cholesterol also plays a vital role in various body functions:
- Help make emulsifiers such as bile, important to fat digestion
- It’s found within the cell membranes of every cell
- Essential for making hormones such as cortisol, testosterone, progesterone, and estrogen
- Used by nerve cells for insulation
- Helps make vitamin D; in the presence of sunlight, cholesterol is converted into vitamin D
While cholesterol is a necessary substance within our bodies, an accumulation of the bad kind can be problematic. LDL or “bad” cholesterol builds up plaque in your arteries, putting you at risk for heart disease and vascular issues. Then there is HDL or “good” cholesterol, which helps remove the bad cholesterol from your bloodstream.
If you’ve been found to have high cholesterol levels, it usually means you have too much LDL and not enough HDL cholesterol, putting you at risk. About one out of every three Americans is affected by high cholesterol levels. Click on this link to see what is considered normal cholesterol levels by age.
4 ways to lower cholesterol naturally
Whether you want to be proactive in keeping your cholesterol levels in check or you’ve already been found to have elevated cholesterol levels, always work with your doctor on a plan to lower cholesterol. They can help create an action plan tailored to you.
If you are overweight to obese or smoke, those are two areas to begin with. Reaching a healthier body weight with the help of a registered dietitian, can be the first smart step to take. If you smoke, quitting smoking is vital for helping lower LDL cholesterol while helping raise good HDL levels.
There are medications you can also be prescribed by your doctor for lowering blood cholesterol levels, which you should consider using if your doctor is recommending it. However, in addition to medication, there are things you can do daily helping to also lower your cholesterol levels naturally.
Here’s a look at 4 things you should do daily to help lower your cholesterol levels into a healthier range:
Every day, increase soluble fiber with smart food choices
Choosing foods full of fiber will not only help lower cholesterol levels but also help support your cardiovascular health. But not just any fiber will do. There are two types of fiber – soluble and insoluble. Both have important functions they perform in your body but it’s a soluble fiber that helps lower cholesterol. Soluble fiber lowers cholesterol by binding to it in the small intestine. Once inside the small intestine, the fiber attaches to the cholesterol particles, preventing them from entering your bloodstream and traveling to other parts of the body. Instead, cholesterol will exit the body through the feces.
Insoluble fiber is effective for lowering triglyceride levels and for boosting HDL cholesterol.
Here is a list of foods rich in soluble fiber:
- Whole-grain bread
- Kidney beans
- Chickpeas or garbanzo beans
- Brussels sprouts
Every day, include healthy fats
When it comes to dietary fat, what matters most is the type of fat you eat. Low-fat diets used to be recommended but now with more research, the recommendation is to focus on eating beneficial “good” fats and avoiding harmful “bad” fats. Fat is an important part of a healthy diet. By choosing foods with “good” unsaturated fats and limiting foods high in saturated fats, helps set the stage for a healthier fat intake.
Here is a listing of “good” unsaturated fats to include daily:
- Extra virgin olive oil
- Fatty fish like salmon, albacore tuna, herring, halibut, sardines, and anchovies
- Natural peanut butter or any nut butter
Here are unhealthy fats to avoid:
- Fatty red meat like chuck, ribs, or brisket
- Fried chicken or fried fish
- Ice cream
- Coconut and palm oils
- Foods that contain trans fats – look for trans fats on Nutrition Facts Labels and choose foods with no more than 0.5 mg/serving.
Every day, prepare foods healthfully
Besides making healthy food choices supporting good cholesterol levels, it’s also important to prepare foods in a healthy way. Preparing foods healthier will go a long way in lowering cholesterol naturally:
- Trim fat and remove the skin (ideally before cooking) when cooking meat or fish.
- Focus on boiling, broiling, baking, poaching, or grilling. These are better methods of preparation than frying or breading, which can store extra fat.
Every day, do some form of physical activity
Keeping physically active on a daily basis will help provide all-around health-enhancing perks. This includes raising good HDL cholesterol helping manage blood pressure levels and other heart health benefits.
The American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM) recommends a minimum of at least 150 minutes of moderate physical activity every week. This would be the equivalent of at least 30 minutes daily (this can be broken down into 10-15 minute increments throughout the day). Focus on doing something every day you enjoy and then consider incorporating other forms of exercise to try out also.
If it’s been a while since you’ve worked out, check with your doctor for their permission to start and to make suggestions on what activities are best suited for your physical limitations. Make it a priority to fit in exercise most if not every day of the week – brisk walking, jogging, swimming, hiking, bicycling, kickboxing, tennis, golfing, yoga, Pilates, or weight lifting.
Your body is meant to move and the more you move it, the better you’ll feel knowing it’s helping you lower your cholesterol naturally.