If your doctor has warned you that your cholesterol is creeping upward, there are lifestyle changes you can make to help improve it before trying cholesterol-lowering medication. And if you already take medication, the tips below can actually improve the cholesterol-lowering qualities of your medication.
It’s helpful to understand what cholesterol is, and how it can affect your health. Cholesterol is manufactured in your liver and has several important functions. It helps to keep the walls of your cells flexible and is necessary in the production of several hormones. But, like anything else…too much of it can create problems.
Cholesterol is transported in the body by molecules called “lipoproteins” which carry cholesterol and fat-soluble vitamins in the blood. Lipoproteins levels in the blood are used to determine cholesterol levels. You may have heard that low-density lipoproteins (LDL) are bad. This type of lipoprotein carries cholesterol to deposit it on blood vessel walls, leading to clogged arteries, hypertension, stroke, kidney failure and heart attack. So, it is important to lower this level. High-density lipoproteins (HDL) are the good lipoproteins, helping to carry cholesterol away from vessel walls and preventing artery-clogging disease. So, it is important to raise this level.
Your hereditary influence is something you won’t be able to change, but how you manage other high-risk influences can make a difference. Listed below are lifestyle changes that can help lower cholesterol while improving health and quality of life, courtesy of the Phoenix senior care experts at Nightingale Homecare:
WATCH YOUR FATS
- Focus on Monounsaturated Fats
Your doctor may recommend a low-fat diet for weight loss, but often a diet low in fats can reduce not only your harmful LDLs, but may also reduce the beneficial HDLs. In contrast, a diet high in monounsaturated fats will reduce harmful LDLs but also protect higher levels of healthy HDLs. A few good sources of monounsaturated fats:
- Olive oil and olives
- Nuts: almonds, pecans, hazelnuts, walnuts and cashews
- Canola oil
- Use Omega-3 Polyunsaturated Fats
Studies show that polyunsaturated fats reduce LDL cholesterol and decrease the risk of heart disease and type 2 diabetes. Some good sources are:
- Fish oil supplements
- Seafood with high fatty content: salmon, mackerel, herring, bluefin and albacore tuna
- Seeds and tree nuts (not peanuts)
- Eliminate Trans Fats
Trans fats are handled differently by the body than other fats. They can increase total cholesterol and LDLs, and also decrease the beneficial HDLs. Use of trans fats leads to heart attack and stroke. In the US, food companies are required to list trans fats on nutrition labels. However, they are allowed to round down when the amount of trans fat per serving is less than 0.5 grams. This means some foods contain trans fats even though their label says “0 grams.” Read further on the nutrition label. If a product contains “partially hydrogenated” oil, avoid it, as it contains trans fat! Foods that contain trans fat include:
- Store-bought cookies and crackers
- Fried fast food
- Vegetable shortening
- Microwave popcorn
- Non-dairy creamer
INCREASE SOLUABLE FIBER
Soluble fiber actually reduces the absorption of cholesterol into your bloodstream by increasing probiotics or “good bacteria” in your intestine. These bacteria will reduce harmful lipoproteins and LDLs. The best sources for soluble fiber include:
- Peas and lentils
- Fruit: apples and pears
- Oats and whole grains: not the quick-cooking oats, which have the fiber processed out
- Fiber supplements like psyllium
ADD WHEY PROTEIN
Whey protein found in dairy products can help lower both LDL and total cholesterol levels as well as blood pressure. Foods containing whey protein include:
- Ricotta cheese
- Whey protein powder
If you see sugar, corn syrup or any word containing “ose” at the top of the ingredient list, avoid it.
Moderate exercise every day can not only combat obesity, it can also help raise good cholesterol levels. Be sure and check with your doctor before you start any exercise program. Try to work up to at least 30 minutes of aerobic activity at least 5 times a week. Some exercises to consider:
- Brisk walking
- Riding a bike
- Resistance exercise
- An exercise class
- Playing a favorite sport
Smoking increases the risk of heart disease by changing the way cholesterol is handled in the body and results in the faster development of clogged arteries. Quitting smoking helps improve your HDL cholesterol levels. This will lower your blood pressure, improve your liver function, and reduce your risk of heart and lung disease.
Carrying a few extra pounds contributes to high blood cholesterol. Weight loss will reduce your total cholesterol by decreasing the creation of new cholesterol in the liver.
As mentioned, sometimes healthy lifestyle changes aren’t enough to lower cholesterol to optimal levels. If your doctor orders medication to help lower your cholesterol, take it as prescribed along with continuing your lifestyle changes.
Call on the Phoenix live-in home health care team at Nightingale Homecare for more healthy living tips, and for the professional in-home care assistance that ensures older adults are living life to the fullest! Contact us any time at (602) 504-1555 to learn more. To learn about all of the communities we serve, please visit our Service Area page.