When considering things you can do to improve your general health and well-being, one of the most important is managing your blood cholesterol level. High cholesterol raises your risk of many serious disorders that can become chronic problems. Lucky for us, there are several basic strategies that can help keep your cholesterol in a healthy range.
Your body needs some cholesterol for a variety of processes, for example, production of cellular membranes and certain hormones, but when your blood cholesterol is high, it can form a substance called plaque on your artery walls. Plaque can narrow arteries and make them less elastic, raising your risk of high blood pressure, heart attack and stroke. You can help prevent this by reducing your intake of dietary fat and choosing unsaturated fats over saturated types whenever possible. The 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommend you consume no more than 20 to 35 percent of your daily total calories from fat. Also, less than 10 percent should come from saturated fats, which are found in fatty meats and full-fat dairy products. Instead, choose lean meat, skinless poultry, fish and reduced-fat, dairy-based foods.
When your digestive system breaks down fats in food, fat is absorbed into your blood, raising your blood level of low-density lipoprotein, or LDL, which is a cholesterol-containing compound that can be especially damaging when its level is too high. You can lessen the rise in LDL after a meal by adding foods that contain a type of indigestible carbohydrate called soluble fiber to every meal. Soluble fiber forms a gel in your digestive tract, slowing absorption of fat and keeping LDL from rising to high levels. According to the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute, consuming 5 to 10 grams of soluble fiber daily can lower your LDL by up to 5 percent. Most fruits and vegetables contain soluble fiber, but legumes, citrus fruits, apples and bananas are especially rich sources.
Weight and Exercise
The Institute also states that controlling your weight and pursuing a regular program of physical activity can help lower your blood LDL level. It says you should only consume enough calories to meet your body's needs, avoiding foods and beverages that have excess sugar and too many calories. It also recommends doing at least thirty minutes of moderate-intensity exercise every day. Examples include brisk walking, bicycling or swimming; breaking up the activity into shorter, ten-minute blocks is also acceptable. For variety, you might add to your program "fun" activities such as gardening, playing golf while walking the course, or playing a sport such as bowling or tennis.
Although adopting a healthy diet and lifestyle can help lower your cholesterol, there are prescription medications also available. One type, belonging a class called statins, can decrease blood cholesterol levels by inhibiting an enzyme in the liver cells that make cholesterol. Other types of medications reduce absorption of fats from food or interfere with your body's ability to digest fat. Several supplements, including niacin, one of the B vitamins, and a type of fat called omega-3 fatty acid found in oily fish, may also help lower your cholesterol. Discuss these options with your doctor, who can help you decide what is best for your situation.
- National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute: What Is Cholesterol?
- American Heart Association: Healthy Diet Goals
- Harvard School of Public Health: Fiber: Start Roughing It!
- National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute: Lowering your Cholesterol with TLC
- MayoClinic.com: Cholesterol Medications: Consider the Options
- USDA.gov: 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans
Joanne Marie began writing professionally in 1981. Her work has appeared in health, medical and scientific publications such as Endocrinology and Journal of Cell Biology. She has also published in hobbyist offerings such as The Hobstarand The Bagpiper. Marie is a certified master gardener and has a Ph.D. in anatomy from Temple University School of Medicine.