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How To Lower Cholesterol

Credit: Pamela Budhoo, Nutritionist, Health Influencer, Writer/Contributor for Effective Lifestyle 

What is Cholesterol? Cholesterol is a type of lipid found in the body. It comes from two sources. The first source comes directly from the body. The liver makes all the cholesterol you need. It’s used to produce cell membranes, sex hormones as well as other body functions. The body itself creates nearly 75-80% of your blood cholesterol. The rest comes from the foods we consume. Dietary cholesterol mostly includes foods derived from animals. Poultry, meat, fish, eggs, milk, butter and cheese are some sources which contain cholesterol. Since the body produces its own cholesterol, we do not need to consume it in our diet. Having too much cholesterol in the blood can become problematic, putting you at risk for heart disease. Cholesterol travels through the body on proteins called lipoprotein. The two types of cholesterol are low-density lipoprotein (LDL) and high-density lipoprotein (HDL). The “bad” cholesterol is LDL. It transports the cholesterol from your liver to the bloodstream and all cells. Once the cells use what they need, HDL, or “good” cholesterol, picks up the excess and transports it back to the liver to be broken down. Everything will function appropriately with cholesterol levels being in an optimal range. Things will start to go wrong if your levels become unbalanced. When your LDL is too high, there may be too much cholesterol for the HDL to carry back to the liver. If your HDL is too low, there isn’t enough to remove the excess cholesterol from the bloodstream. In both cases, there will be too much cholesterol floating around in the blood. Eventually, it will join with other substances and start sticking to the walls of your arteries, forming plaque. Over time, your arteries can become narrow, restricting blood flow, a term called atherosclerosis. A clogged or blocked artery can ultimately lead to heart disease, heart attack or even stroke. For this reason, it’s important to keep an eye on your cholesterol levels. Lowering Cholesterol Making lifestyle changes can lower your cholesterol. Diet and exercise should be the focus when it comes to making changes to better your health. When it comes to lowering cholesterol, different foods will work in different ways. Saturated Fat Animal derived foods contain dietary cholesterol as well as saturated fats. These fats will cause your liver to make more cholesterol than it normally would. For some individuals, the added production of cholesterol can cause your levels to go from normal to high. Saturated fats are primarily found in meat and full fat dairy products. Reducing the consumption of this fat can decease LDL cholesterol. Choose foods that are low in saturated fat such as lean meats, seafood and low fat/fat free milk, cheese and yogurt. Soluble Fiber Fruits, vegetables and grains have no cholesterol. Promoting them in a diet aimed towards lowering cholesterol will be beneficial. Soluble fiber can decrease the absorption of cholesterol into the bloodstream. It’ll bind to cholesterol and its precursors in the digestive system and remove them from the body before they get into circulation. Within the diet, you should incorporate fruits such as apples, grapes, citrus fruits and strawberries as they are high in pectin, a type of soluble fiber which lowers LDL. Beans are rich in fiber and should be added to the diet as well. The fiber in oats, barely and other whole grains can help when it comes to lowering cholesterol. Increasing the consumption of vegetables will provide the body with an array of nutrients. Along with being nutrient dense, vegetables also contain fiber. Okra and eggplant are both a good source of soluble fiber. Omega-3 Fatty Acid Fish should be consumed in the diet 2-3 times a week as it will lower LDL cholesterol. A good swap would be substituting meat, which contains LDL boosting saturated fats, with fatty fish. Fatty fish will deliver omega-3 fatty acids to the body. The omega-3’s will reduce LDL cholesterol. It’ll also decrease triglycerides in the bloodstream and slow down the growth of plaque in the arteries. Fatty fish include but not limited to salmon, herring, tuna, sardines, mackerel and trout. Besides oily fishes, you can obtain omega-3’s from nuts. Walnuts have the highest levels of omega-3’s when compared to other nuts. Peanuts, cashews, hazelnuts, almonds, and brazil nuts only has a small amount of the heart healthy fat. Non-diet Ways to Improve Cholesterol • Physical Activity: can help raise your HDL cholesterol • Quit Smoking: improves HDL levels • Lose Weight (if needed): extra pounds can contribute to high cholesterol • Limit Alcohol: too much alcohol can raise cholesterol levels