High blood cholesterol is a major risk factor for heart disease, which is the leading cause of death in America. Nearly 17% of adults in American have high cholesterol. Not only do you get cholesterol from the food you eat; your body also makes cholesterol to use in normal body functions, such as hormone synthesis. The problems arise when too much cholesterol is in the wrong place at the wrong time, clogging blood vessels. Humans synthesize around 0.5 to 0.75 grams of cholesterol per day and may take in an additional 0.25 to 0.5 grams per day in their diet. A healthy diet and regular physical activity can help prevent abnormal cholesterol levels.
Certain foods have types of fat that raise your cholesterol levels. These fats include saturated fat, trans fatty acids or trans fat, and dietary cholesterol.
What foods should you eat?
- Fats such as monounsaturated (i.e., nuts, vegetable oils, olive oil, avocado, sunflower oil) and polyunsaturated fats (i.e., corn oil, soybean oil, canola oil, walnuts) can help to lower blood cholesterol levels.
- Fish is a great source of Omega-3 polyunsaturated fat. Fish, such as trout, herring, and salmon provide an essential fatty acid that our bodies need.
- Getting enough soluble fiber in your diet can help to lower cholesterol. Soluble fiber, such as the fibers found in oat bran, is the type of fiber that actually washes away the bad cholesterol that clings to the inner walls of the arteries. Fresh fruits and vegetables are a great source of this fiber. Carrots and apples are two top choices.
- Choose a soft margarine spread instead of stick margarine.
What foods should you avoid?
- Saturated fats, trans fats, and dietary cholesterol tend to raise blood cholesterol levels.
- Saturated fats come largely from animal fat in the diet and are found in some vegetable oils, such as palm oil.
- Dietary cholesterol is found in foods that come from animal sources such as egg yolks, meats, and dairy products.
- For some people, a diet that has too many carbohydrates can lower the “good” cholesterol and raise triglycerides.
- Alcohol can raise triglycerides and excessive alcohol use can lead to high blood pressure.
Lack of regular physical activity can lead to weight gain, which could raise your LDL (“bad”) cholesterol levels. Below are some recommendations for moderate-intensity exercise which will help maintain healthy blood cholesterol levels.
Type of Exercise to Perform
If your breathing and heart rate is noticeably faster but you are still carrying on a conversation, it is most likely moderate exercise. Try to perform this level of physical activity for at least 30 minutes, at least three days a week.
Here are some examples:
- Walking briskly (a 15-minute mile pace)
- Light yard work (raking/bagging leaves or mowing the lawn)
- Actively playing with children
- Biking at a casual pace
Tips to Getting Started with an Exercise Program
- Look for opportunities to reduce sedentary time and to increase active time. For example, instead of watching TV, go for a walk after dinner.
- Set aside specific times for physical activity in your schedule and make it part of your daily routine.
- Start with activities, locations, and times that you enjoy.
- Try activities with friends or family members to help with motivation and encouragement.
- Start slowly and work your way up to more physically challenging activities.
*Prior to starting a new physical activity program consult your doctor for individual specifications to meet your needs.
- Wood, P. (2006). How Fat Works. Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University Press. 24-25.
- Mangano, F. (2005). Cholesterol Cure. Simple Ways To Add Cholesterol -Lowering Fiber To Your Diet. Retrieved 12 March, 2007, from http://www.60daystolowercholesterol.com/tips/fiber.html
- Center for Disease Control and Prevention. High Blood Cholesterol Prevention. Cholesterol. Updated 8 November 2007. Date accessed 15 February 2009. http://www.cdc.gov/cholesterol/prevention.htm