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 carbohydrates
Simple 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 acids
I 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 smoking
If 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 sugar
The 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.