Cholesterol is a waxy substance in your blood and is also found in certain foods. Ideally, your total cholesterol levels will fall under 200 milligrams per deciliter (mg/dL). Your LDL, or “bad” cholesterol, levels should fall under 100 mg/dL. And your HDL, or “good cholesterol,” should stay at 40 mg/dL or higher. If you have high cholesterol levels, changing your lifestyle can go a long way.
Dr. Javier Sosa and our team at Woodlands Primary Healthcare provide blood tests to help identify cholesterol-related risk factors. We can also make lifestyle recommendations that suit your specific needs.
Here are nine ways you can lower your cholesterol levels without medication:
1. Limit unhealthy fats
Your body already makes all the saturated fat it needs and eating too much more can raise your cholesterol. Consuming fewer saturated fat sources, such as red meat and full-fat dairy products, can reduce your LDL cholesterol.
Meanwhile, avoid trans fats, which are considered the most dangerous. Common sources include margarine, store-bought pastries, and anything that lists partially hydrogenated vegetable oil as an ingredient.
2. Get your omega-3s
Omega-3 fatty acids, commonly called omega-3s, don’t negatively impact LDL cholesterol levels. They can, however, improve your cardiovascular health and reduce your risk of heart disease and stroke. So consider replacing fatty red meat with oily fish, such as salmon or mackerel. The American Heart Association recommends eating at least two servings of fish—ideally oily—per week. Vegetarian sources include flaxseeds, chia seeds, and walnuts.
3. Eat more fiber
Many people know about the digestive benefits of consuming enough fiber. But did you know that fiber can play a key role in cholesterol health, too? Soluble fiber, in particular, can help by reducing the absorption of cholesterol in your bloodstream.
Good sources include brussels sprouts, oatmeal, apples, kidney beans, and pears. Replacing refined grain products with fiber-rich whole grains can help, too.
4. Cut back on added sugar
A sugary diet can cause your liver to make more LDL cholesterol while lowering your HDL levels. Excess sugar can also raise your triglycerides and inhibit an enzyme that breaks them down. To prevent this, replace sugary fare with naturally-sweet alternatives. Instead of a bowl of candy, for example, have unsweetened applesauce or a baked pear. When you do indulge in high-sugar treats, stick to modest portions.
5. Limit alcohol
Too much alcohol can lead to serious problems, such as high blood pressure, stroke, and heart failure. Large amounts of alcohol can raise your LDL levels. If you enjoy wine, beer, or cocktails, stick to moderate intake.
6. Quit smoking
If you smoke, quitting the habit can improve your HDL levels quickly. Within 20 minutes of quitting, your heart rate and blood pressure will recover from spikes caused by tobacco. Within three months of quitting, your lungs will function better as your blood circulation improves. Within one year, your risk for heart disease will go down by half.
7. Exercise on most days
Engaging in moderate exercise can help raise your HDL cholesterol while boosting your overall cardiovascular health. If you’re fairly sedentary now, start with small amounts, working your way up to 30 minutes of exercise five times each week. If you prefer more vigorous aerobic exercise, 20 minutes three times a week will suffice.
8. Develop healthy sleep habits
Sleeping too little is common but detrimental to your health. In fact, loss in sleep is associated with increased cholesterol levels and related problems, such as high triglycerides and blood pressure. To improve your sleep, aim for consistent bed and waking times, sleep in a cool, dark, comfortable room, and avoid stimulating activities, such as working on a computer, before bed.
9. Drink more water
Staying well-hydrated is important, especially while you exercise to improve your cholesterol levels. Replacing sugary drinks, such as soft drinks and concentrated juices, with water will lower your sugar intake. Drinking water before meals may also improve appetite and portion control, making weight control easier. This is important, given that losing excess weight may improve your cholesterol levels.
Learn more about cholesterol health and management by calling Woodlands Primary Healthcare or requesting an appointment with Dr. Sosa on our website.