It seems like everyone is confused about cholesterol. Should we worry about cholesterol, should we not worry about cholesterol, how do we lower bad cholesterol, how do we increase good cholesterol. The answers to these questions are constantly changing and it can be very confusing as to what to do about cholesterol - and I'm not convinced that cholesterol is even a great indicator of heart disease. That being said, there are certain things that you can do that everyone agrees on can lower your risk for heart disease, as well as lower bad cholesterol and increase good cholesterol.
Note: "Good" cholesterol is HDL cholesterol and it is considered good because it helps your body process the bad types of cholesterol. "Bad" cholesterol is both triglyceride cholesterol and LDL cholesterol. Bad cholesterol is bad because high levels are associated with heart disease (high triglycerides also can cause pancreatitis).
Below lists the top ways to improve your cholesterol levels:
1. Exercise most days of the week
Exercising daily is one of the very best things you can do for yourself in general, and research has found that exercising daily is good for your heart as well as increasing good cholesterol and decreasing bad cholesterol. Exercise is one of the first things I recommend when a patient has abnormal cholesterol levels because it is a highly effective treatment. Read more about the benefits of exercise on cholesterol levels here.
2. Decrease consumption of processed foods
Processed foods basically means anything that comes in a package. Processed foods are almost always low in fiber and other nutrients due to the fact that they are highly processed which removes vitamins and fiber. These foods that are devoid of nutrients are doing nothing to help your cholesterol, and if anything are hurting your health. The worst processed foods contain trans-fats, which are chemically altered fats that have shown to negatively affect your health and cholesterol levels. Processed foods also tend to be inflammatory, and inflammation is basically the root cause of all disease including heart disease. Read more about diet and heart disease risk here.
3. Increase fiber intake
Fiber has amazing health benefits, one of them being its ability to decrease bad cholesterol levels - most notably triglyceride cholesterol. Fiber is able to decrease levels because it binds to the bad cholesterol in the body and physically removes it from your body when you go to the bathroom. Aim to get at least 25 grams of fiber per day. Great sources of fiber include chia seeds, flax seeds, nuts, raspberries, beans, and vegetables. Read more about this here from the Mayo Clinic.
4. Decrease simple carbohydratesSimple carbohydrates mean these carbohydrates have little to no fiber. These include rice, tortillas, bread, etc.When I have patients cut these foods out or decrease their consumption of these foods, I see dramatic changes in their cholesterol for the better.
5. Increase omega-3 fatty acidsI will actually prescribe omega-3 fatty acids for patients of mine who have very high bad cholesterol (specifically triglyceride cholesterol). But you don't have to have bad cholesterol to take these as a supplement. Omega-3 fatty acids are extremely good for you notably because they lower inflammation. Good sources of omega-3 fatty acids include salmon and grass-fed butter.
6. Quit smokingIf you smoke, quit now. Smoking decreases good cholesterol and increases bad cholesterol. There is literally no benefit of smoking and this is just one more reason to quit. This study showed that good cholesterol raised after individuals quit smoking. Read more about the effects of smoking here.
7. Decrease sugarThe worst offenders are soda, candy, pastries, pies, muffins, and cake because these are all basically pure sugar and will also increase weight gain and are high risk for developing type 2 Diabetes. Aim to get less than 25 grams of sugar per day.
Main take aways...
Exercise daily, eat lots of vegetables and natural foods that don't come in packages and you will be on the right track to a healthy heart and a healthy body in general.
Many individuals view sleep as a luxury and not a necessity, which could not be farther from the truth! Make sleep just as important as exercising and eating right, because it is just as important if not more important for your health.
Below lists the top 10 reasons to make sleep a priority:
Studies have found that a good sleep is necessary for focus and attention. If the brain is not able to reset and relax adequately, this leads to decreased ability to concentrate on the task at hand. Focus is necessary for almost everything, whether this be studying for a test, or driving a car.
Getting quality sleep translates to a better workout because sleep is when your muscles recover and heal themselves. If muscles are not able to rebuild overnight, your muscles are going to have a very hard time becoming stronger. Not only that, if you try to workout after no sleep or a bad sleep, your workout is likely going to feel much harder than normal - which can be very frustrating as well!
Think about how much crankier you are when you don't get a good sleep - it's not your fault! Lack of sleep causes your hormones to go hay-wire, leading to more anxiety and stress in the brain. Sleep deprivation causes anxiety because your brain is not able to shut itself down and reset. It is imperative to get good sleep to prevent anxiety and stress and is why sleep is my number one recommendation to those with anxiety.
The hunger suppressing hormone ghrelin is significantly decreased when you are sleep deprived. This means you are going to be hungrier if you didn't sleep well, making you more likely to overeat. If you are trying to lose weight, you must aim to get a solid 7-9 hours of sleep at night.
When your brain is able to sleep, this means all of your neurotransmitters and hormones are primed and ready to give your mind and body energy to tackle tasks for the day. Think about how much more productive you are when you get a good sleep compared to when you don't get a good sleep.
Research has found that lack of sleep is inflammatory to the entire body. Read more about this here. Inflammation is basically the root cause of almost all disease, and we want to prevent chronic inflammation in every way we can - sleep is a great place to start.
Sleep is when the brain can rest so that we can store information we have learned. According to the National Sleep Foundation, sleep causes changes in the brain that makes memories form. Read more about this here from The Division of Sleep Medicine from Harvard Medical School.
When your brain and body are able to fully relax, this allows for energy the following day. A bad sleep or lack of sleep can cause us to feel lethargic and fatigued, which leads to less productivity as discussed above. Some scientists think that we sleep to conserve energy, which we can use for the day - read more about that here.
When you are sleep deprived you are obviously going to feel tired, right? So what do you reach for that is going to give you instant energy? Well, besides coffee :) it's sugar! This is why it can be hard to fight off sugar cravings when you are lacking sleep. Your body craves sugar because it needs that extra boost to function when you are sleep deprived. The problem with sugar (among many others) is that the energy surge is only temporary, and is not long-lasting. This can lead for a need of constant sugar refueling throughout the day.
10. Problem solving
During sleep, different parts of the brain are able to make connections, leading to ideas coming together to form solutions to problems you may be trying to work out. This may be why we tend to wake up with great ideas or solutions to problems after sleeping. Read more about this here from the National Sleep Foundation.
Main take away...
Sleep is incredibly important for both your mind and body, make it a priority to get a good sleep tonight.
Board Certified Nurse Practitioner in California. Blogging about health, fitness and mindfulness.