Cholesterol – Lifestyle Changes to Lower Your Cholesterol
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Cholesterol is a waxy, fat-like substance in your body. Your body uses it to protect nerves, make cell tissues, and produce certain hormones. Your liver makes all the cholesterol your body needs. But you also get cholesterol directly from food you eat. Common sources include eggs, meats, and dairy products. This can add too much cholesterol into your body. If this happens, you may have high cholesterol. That can have negative effects on your health. Luckily, there are lifestyle changes you can make to improve your cholesterol.
Path to improved health
There are 2 main types of cholesterol:
Low-density lipoprotein (LDL).This delivers cholesterol to the body. This is called “bad” cholesterol. You want a low level of this type.
High-density lipoprotein (HDL).This removes cholesterol from the bloodstream. This is called “good” cholesterol. You want a high level of this type.
A high level of LDL is bad for your body. Likewise, a low level of HDL is bad for you. If your healthcare provider says you need to improve your cholesterol, you’ll need to lower your LDL and increase your HDL. Medicines can help with this. But the simplest way to improve your cholesterol is through lifestyle changes
What lifestyle changes can I make to help improve my cholesterol levels?
Exercise can raise HDL cholesterol levels and reduce levels of LDL cholesterol and triglycerides. To achieve health benefits, adults aged 18-64 should accumulate at least 150 minutes of physical activity per week, in bouts of 10 minutes or more. Make sure you talk to your healthcare provider before starting an exercise plan.
Lose weight if you are overweight.
Being overweight can raise your cholesterol levels. Losing weight, even just 2-5 kg (5 or 10 pounds), can lower your total cholesterol, LDL cholesterol and triglyceride levels.
If you smoke, quit.
Smoking lowers your HDL cholesterol. Even exposure to second-hand smoke can affect your HDL level. Contact your healthcare provider about developing a plan to help you stop smoking.
Eat a heart-healthy diet.
- Eat plenty of fresh fruits and vegetables. Fruits and vegetables are naturally low in fat. Not only do they add flavor and variety to your diet, but they are also the best source of fibre, vitamins and minerals for your body. Aim for 7-10 servings of fruits and vegetables every day, not counting potatoes, corn and rice. Potatoes, corn and rice count as carbohydrates.
- Pick “good” fats over “bad” fats. Fat is part of a healthy diet, but you need to know the difference between “bad” fats and “good” fats. “Bad” fats, such as saturated and trans fats, are found in foods such as:
- coconut and palm oil;
- saturated or partially hydrogenated vegetable fats such as shortening and margarine;
- animal fats in meats;
- fats in whole milk dairy products.
Limit the amount of saturated fat in your diet and avoid trans fat completely.
Unsaturated fat is the “good” fat. Most fats in fish, vegetables, grains and tree nuts are unsaturated. Try to eat unsaturated fat in place of saturated fat. For example, you can use olive oil or canola oil in cooking instead of butter.
- Use healthier cooking methods. Baking, broiling and roasting are the healthiest ways to prepare meat, poultry and other foods. Trim any outside fat or skin before cooking. Lean cuts can be pan-broiled or stir-fried. Use either a non-stick pan or non-stick cooking spray instead of adding fats such as butter or margarine. When eating out, ask how food is prepared. You can request that your food be baked, broiled or roasted, rather than fried.
- Look for other sources of protein. Fish, dry beans, tree nuts, peas and lentils offer protein, nutrients and fibre without the cholesterol and saturated fats that meats have. Consider eating one “meatless” meal each week. Try substituting beans for meat in a favorite recipe, such as lasagna or chili. Snack on a handful of almonds or pecans. Soy is also an excellent source of protein. Good examples of soy include soy milk, edamame (green soy beans), tofu and soy protein shakes.
- Get more fibre in your diet. Add good sources of fibre to your meals. Examples include:
- fruits and vegetables,
- whole grains (such as oat bran, whole and rolled oats and barley),
- legumes (such as beans and peas)
- nuts and seeds (such as ground flax seed).
In addition to fibre, whole grains supply B-vitamins and important nutrients not found in foods made with white flour.
- Eat more fish. Fish are an excellent source of omega-3 fatty acids. Wild-caught oily fish, such as salmon, tuna, mackerel and sardines, are the best sources of omega-3s, but all fish contain some amount of this beneficial fatty acid. Canada’s Food Guide recommends eating at least 2 servings (75 grams each) of fish each week.
- Limit how much cholesterol you get in your diet. You should limit your overall cholesterol intake to less than 300 milligrams per day. If you have heart disease, discuss with your primary health care provider about what recommendations for cholesterol apply to you.
Add supplements to your diet.
Certain supplements may help improve your cholesterol levels if changing your diet isn’t enough. Some examples include:
- Plant sterols and stanols. Plant sterols and stanols can help keep your body from absorbing cholesterol. Sterols have been added to some foods, including margarines and spreads, orange juice and yogurt. You can also find sterols and stanols in some dietary supplements.
- Omega-3 fatty acids. If you have heart disease or high triglycerides, consider taking an omega-3 or fish oil supplement.
Discuss with your health care provider to see if this is right for you.
Learn how to read a nutrition facts table.
All packaged and processed foods should contain a nutrition facts table. This table shows the nutritional content of the food. It will outline the fat, fibre, protein, and other nutrients in the food. Knowing how to read these tables can help you make better food choices when you’re at the grocery store.
Things to consider
Often, there are no symptoms telling you that you could have high cholesterol. If you have high cholesterol, your body may store the extra cholesterol in your arteries. This build-up is called plaque. Over time plaque can become hard and make your arteries narrow. Large deposits of plaque can completely block an artery. The plaque can also break open. This leads to formation of a blood clot that can block the flow of blood.
If an artery that leads to the heart becomes blocked, you could have a heart attack. If an artery that leads to the brain is blocked, you are at risk of having a stroke. Many times, people don’t find out they have high cholesterol until they’ve had one of these life-threatening events.
If you have high cholesterol, you’re twice as likely to develop heart disease. This is why it’s important to have your cholesterol levels checked, especially if you have a family history of heart disease.
FOR MORE INFORMATION
Heart and Stroke Foundation of Canada
Nova Scotia Toll free 1-800-423-4432
Prince Edward Island: (902) 892-7441
Canadian Heart and Stroke Foundation Website at: