Before I discuss ways in which we can reduce high cholesterol levels, it is important to understand that our bodies do need cholesterol as it provides structural support for each of our cells and it is required in the production of certain hormones. Due to this, our livers actually produce cholesterol and low cholesterol levels are related to mortality.
Total cholesterol includes both HDL (high density lipoprotein or ‘good’ cholesterol) and LDL (low density lipoprotein or ‘bad’ cholesterol). LDL sticks to artery walls and can block blood flow to the heart (increasing our risk for heart disease), while HDL cholesterol actually removes LDL from arteries. Problems may arise when our total cholesterol is too high, when HDL is too low and when LDL levels are too high. As it is estimated that 44% of Canadians live with high cholesterol levels, it is vital that we introduce some or all of the lifestyle changes required to ensure that cholesterol levels are within a healthy range.
Take these lifestyle changes to reduce cholesterol levels naturally:
1. Decrease intake of saturated fats and avoid trans fats – Avoid foods that include trans, hydrogenated or partially hydrogenated fats (check ingredient lists). For example, margarines, frozen pizzas, waffles, frozen fries and snack foods such as commercial cookies, crackers and pastries are often made using hydrogenated oils. Trans fat not only increases LDL, but it decreases HDL levels, deeming it a risk factor for heart disease.
2. Replace saturated and trans fats with unsaturated fats – Unsaturated fats include mono and polyunsaturated fats. While we find monounsaturated fats in foods such as
vegetable oils, avocados, nuts and seeds, Omega 3’s are a polyunsaturated fat found in fatty fish (there some vegetarian sources as well but evidence is less conclusive on its role in reducing cholesterol levels). Omega 3 intake (especially from sustainable fish) directly reduces LDL levels and most importantly, can increase HDL levels.
3. Increase soluble fibre intake – Choose fibrous foods such as oat bran, barley and legumes (dried beans, peas and lentils) as well as whole grains, vegetables and fruits in order to help decrease LDL cholesterol levels.
4. Exercise – Exercise is the best way to increase HDL levels. Everyone can find a type of exercise that is best for their lifestyle. For example, you can join a gym or a yoga/pilates studio, or you might prefer swimming, dancing, walking, hiking, etc. The possibilities are endless and exercise is vital for optimal health and for reducing your risk of heart disease.
5. Maintain a healthy weight – Excess body weight is associated with elevated LDL cholesterol levels (and higher triglyceride levels). Weight loss can also increase HDL levels in those with excess body weight.
Looking for more information on reducing cholesterol levels or on heart health in general? Contact me today at Nicole.firstname.lastname@example.org or book in for a consultation online at www.thefloatationcentre.ca.
Eat Well, Halifax,
Nicole Marchand, RD