Changing your lifestyle: Get a handle on cholesterol levels
Published by: LifeWorks,
Cholesterol is a waxy substance made by the liver, but it can also be found in some foods. Cells need it to function, and your body relies on it to make Vitamin D and some hormones.
There are two types of cholesterol: low-density lipoprotein (LDL) and high-density lipoprotein (HDL). Unlike LDL, which is an unhealthy cholesterol you want to avoid, HDL is actually protective and can help prevent heart disease.
If your LDL levels are too high, your doctor may prescribe you medication such a statins. But sometimes it’s possible to lower your cholesterol by making changes to your diet and exercise.
How to lower your cholesterol by changing your lifestyle
Making healthier choices is a great strategy to avoid or supplement taking a medication to improve your cholesterol levels. Even if you don’t have high cholesterol, changing some of your habits now can help you keep your numbers in the healthy range.
Diet can have a major impact on your LDL and HDL levels as well as other markers of your health. You’re going to want to get into the habit of reading food labels carefully—not just for cholesterol content but for sugar, fiber and types of fat since these can all affect our cholesterol. Unsaturated fats (mono- and poly-unsaturated) are heart-healthy, however, saturated fats will increase overall cholesterol and LDL levels. You’ll also want to watch out for trans fats which lower HDL levels and increases LDL levels.
Here are some heart-healthy tips to consider working into your everyday life:
- Limit saturated fats and avoid trans fats by replacing them with unsaturated fats in your diet.
- Reduce your saturated fat intake by choosing low-fat dairy products instead of full fat.
- Butter is high in saturated fat, and margarine tends to contain trans fats. When you’re shopping, look for a margarine with 0 grams of trans fats and make sure the ingredients label doesn’t list anything “partially hydrogenated” or “hydrogenated”. These ingredients signal that the food has trans fats but may not be listed on the nutrition label because it is a small amount per serving.
- Choose leaner meats and trim excess fat or drain it after cooking.
- Try having a meatless meal more often. You can benefit from the healthy fat in fish by eating two servings a week. Other protein replacements include soy, nuts or beans.
- Instead of frying foods, try baking, broiling, roasting, grilling or steaming them.
- Eat more whole grains like oats, brown rice and popcorn. The fiber in whole grains can help improve cholesterol, specifically LDL levels. Make sure that the first ingredient in products like whole grain bread and whole grain pasta is “whole grain” or “whole wheat”.
- When cooking with oil, choose those higher in unsaturated fats such as canola, safflower, flaxseed, sunflower and olive oil. Avocados can also be used as a replacement in some recipes. Despite the hype about coconut oil, it does have a lot of saturated fat so using it sparingly is a safer bet.
- Nuts, nut butters, avocado, flaxseeds and chia seeds all have healthy fats and can be good additions to your diet.
- Limit sweets including sugar sweetened beverages. The sugar increases triglycerides, a type of fat in your blood. Plus, baked goods tend to contain unhealthy fats.
- Your heart benefits from the fiber and nutrients in fruits and veggies, and they also promote a healthy weight.
- If you drink alcohol, make sure you do so in moderation.
- Regular exercise can increase your HDL levels.
- Don’t use tobacco. Smoking can decrease HDL levels.
If you’re a LifeWorks user and want more information about maintaining a healthy lifestyle, log into your mobile app or sign on by going to login.lifeworks.com. Then go to the Life section and click on Health.
Sara Zigich is a registered dietitian with M.S in nutrition from Central Michigan University and a B.S. from Purdue University. She has 11 years of experience in health coaching. Ms. Zigich helps health coaching participants succeed in improving their wellness by making healthy, realistic changes to their lifestyle, and she promotes finding a balance for wellness between healthy choices and enjoyment without feeling deprived.