The easiest and fastest way to see if you are at risk for heart disease is to start by measuring your blood-cholesterol level. The CDC warns that one in every six American adults has high cholesterol, and even children are at risk of developing it. Several factors that can increase the risk of high cholesterol include age, sex, heredity, unhealthy diet and being overweight. Lowering the cholesterol level is important for people of all ages, especially those that already have heart disease and diabetes. Here are several tips that can help in keeping your cholesterol levels at their normal range:
Maintain a healthy weight
Extra pounds, however small they seem, are a major contributing factor to high cholesterol levels, so maintaining a healthy weight is vital. A simple calculation of body mass index, or BMI, can help determine the amount of weight you need to lose or maintain to help keep your cholesterol levels normal. Here is a table showing the standard weight categories:
18.5 - 24.9
25.0 - 29.9
30.0 and above
Monitor your daily food intake
Eating a healthy diet can greatly help in lowering cholesterol levels and optimizing overall health. It can also help in losing weight, especially if combined with exercise. Here are several diet tips that can significantly improve cholesterol levels:
- Eat meat sparingly - Try to limit your meat intake, particularly fatty meats, processed meats and fatty red meats because they contain high amounts of cholesterol and saturated fat, which can trigger high blood cholesterol. You can minimize the amount of fat from these meats by trimming off the skin and fats, or by choosing lean meat instead.
- Limit food high in saturated fat - Saturated fats are known to increase low-density lipoprotein, or LDL, and this causes plaque that can clog the arteries. Try to limit your intake of food high in saturated fats, such fatty beef, bacon, egg yolks, butter, cream and other dairy products.
- Reduce dietary cholesterol - High cholesterol in food can also increase blood cholesterol, so try cutting back on foods such as eggs, organ meats and shellfish.
- Avoid trans fat - Trans fat is usually found in hydrogenated vegetable oils, such as shortenings and hard margarines. Research shows that it can lower “good” cholesterol known as high-density lipoprotein, or HDL, while it simultaneously increases the “bad” cholesterol, or LDL. This can lead to cardiovascular diseases such as stroke, atherosclerosis and high blood pressure.
- Reduce salt intake - Salt, or sodium chloride, has long been linked to high blood pressure, which can increase the risk of cardiovascular diseases. Sodium doesn’t really affect cholesterol levels, according to the American Heart Association; however, when sodium and cholesterol are over-consumed, this can pose an increased risk of stroke and heart attack.
- Increase complex carbohydrates and fiber - Focus on foods that contain complex carbohydrates and fiber. A low-fat diet that includes these foods can help in lowering blood-cholesterol levels.
Practice healthy cooking methods
The best way to cook your meals is through roasting, poaching, boiling, baking, steaming and grilling. Avoid frying, especially deep frying, because it only increases the fat content in the food, which can lead to high cholesterol.
Read food labels carefully
Try to avoid packaged foods with listed ingredients that include meat fat, whole milk solids and hydrogenated fat or oil. Watch out for unlabeled foods and fast foods, especially if you’re unsure of the ingredients.
Regular exercise can help keep cholesterol levels in check. This includes any physical activity such as walking, biking, dancing and gardening. Exercise helps in stimulating enzymes that move LDL from the blood to the liver, where it is converted to bile for extraction. The recommended amount and intensity of exercise differs from person to person, so it’s best to consult your doctor before taking on any exercise regime.
Drink alcohol only in moderation
Based on research, moderate consumption of alcohol can help increase HDL levels, but it is not recommended for those who don’t drink at all. The recommended limit for women is 1 small glass (120 ml) per day and 2 small glasses (240 ml) for men. Red wine, in particular contains antioxidants such as polyphenols and resveratrol, which can assist in raising HDL levels.
Tobacco and cigarettes contain numerous toxins that can affect overall health. Acrolein, in particular, is easily absorbed by the bloodstream, and affects healthy cholesterol metabolism in the body in a negative way. Nicotine and carbon monoxide can also trigger symptoms of atherosclerosis, or hardening of the arteries, as well as clumping of platelets that can block arteries, leading to heart attacks.
David Novak’s byline has appeared in newspapers and magazines around the world. He’s an avid health enthusiast, and frequently is featured in regional and national health publications. He is also a weekly writer for Healthline. To visit his other stories on Healthline, visit http://www.healthline.com/.