Updated: Oct 4, 2021
Cholesterol is essential for vitamin absorption, hormone production and cell membrane maintenance. High or suboptimal levels can lead to health issues such as heart attack or stroke and typically does not have any symptoms.
Unhealthy lifestyle choices are the root of imbalanced cholesterol levels but can also be the key to change ! Food is medicine and can decrease inflammation and remove arteriosclerosis plaques that have built up in the blood vessels.
Doctors can prescribe statins to help lower a person’s cholesterol levels, but these medications can cause side effects, such as headaches, muscle cramps, and nausea.
In this blog post we will explore natural ways to lower cholesterol without medications.
Eat a whole foods diet with lots of healthy omega-3 and monounsaturated fats. Shop the perimeter of the grocery store where all of the fresh foods live, avoiding the aisles with the boxed and packaged items that tend to be more highly processed. Food is medicine!! Focus on including lots of anti-inflammatory omega 3 fats such as wild caught fish like salmon (canned, smoked, in sushi etc.), herring or mackerel, nuts such as almonds or almond butter, walnuts, or cashews, extra virgin olives/olive oil, avocados/avocado oil and flaxseeds. These can improve both the type and quantity of cholesterol in your body.
Replace foods that contain trans-fats. Trans fats raise your bad cholesterol, lower your good cholesterol and increase inflammation in your body. One way to do this is search the ingredients list and replace any foods containing hydrogenated vegetable oil.
Other examples of foods that often contain trans fats include:
Fast and fried foods
Highly processed oils such as canola, corn, vegetable. Beware of food items that contain these oils like salad dressings, mayo and pre-made foods.
Shortening and margarine and anything that are made with them such as pastries, doughnuts, muffins, pies and cakes. Use real butter or clarified butter in place of margarine
Coffee Creamers- use milk instead
Microwavable popcorn, potato and corn chips
Eat saturated fats in moderation. Saturated fats can be found in foods such as red meat, especially in fatty meats or skin and full fat dairy (like cheese, ice cream, milk etc.). These don't necessarily need to be eliminated but they shouldn't be consumed at every meal which is standard for many Americans.
Eliminate any processed meats in your diet such as hot dogs, bologna, bacon, ham these are highly inflammatory and known to cause disease.
Make friends with fiber
Besides healthy fats, focus on a high-fiber, plant-based diet. That includes lots of non-starchy veggies, beans, seeds, nuts. Soluble fiber can actually bind to cholesterol particles so that it is digested from your body rather than being absorbed.
Aim for > 25 g of fiber per day for women and >35 g for men
It's no secret that we live predominately sedentary lives due to working all day long. This is a major contributing factor for increased cholesterol levels. Consistency is key. If you’re a newbie, even 30 minutes of walking will help. More advanced exercisers can incorporate weight training and high-intensity interval training. As a bonus you’ll watch your triglyceride levels drop as well. Triglycerides are the only lipid in the cholesterol profile used for energy. They decrease an average of 24% with regular cardiovascular exercise. The key is picking a designated time and making it a part of your routine. Make it a priority and plan around it. If you don't have a regular time it can be hard to remain consistent. Think about your schedule and where this would successfully fit in- before work? after work?
Focus on quality sleep.
Optimizing blood sugar is just one of the numerous benefits of eight hours of sleep every night. Good sleep practices include:
Control light exposure: Lots of natural light during day, limit blue light at night
Put devices away a couple hours before bed
Keep room dark and cool: 65-68 F
Limit caffeine and alcohol intake
Bedtime ritual and develop a consistent sleep routine.
Be mindful of carbs and added sugars
Sugar turns on the cholesterol making machine that is your liver. Think about where you have added sugar in your diet-- beverages? snacks? and try to replace with better options. Research shows that following a low-carb(sugar) eating plan can help you lose weight and reduce cardiovascular risk factors. Replace your carbohydrates with high-fiber options like oatmeal, whole grain starches, beans, lentils and whole fruit, which will provide the energy you need but also keep you feeling full. The key is to watch your portions — aim for no more than about 1 cup of starch and/or fruit with meals.
Make half your plate fruits and veggies at all meals
Swap regular pasta for bean pasta, put tofu in your stir fry rather than steak, use black beans in your tacos, add chickpeas or edamame in your salad
Swap white refined grains such as white bread or white rice with whole grains such as whole grain bread, oatmeal, brown rice
Take the right supplements.
Ask your doctor what is best for you but these could include a multi-vitamin, fish oil or EPA/DHA, vitamin D3, Niacin, Glucomannan or PGX (a super fiber), Red rice yeast
To put these recommendations into perspective I would encourage you to make this smoothie for breakfast daily, adding some flax and chia seeds for an extra boost of healthy fats. Make a salad such as this one or this one or this for lunch using beans as your source of protein. For snacking, enjoy a protein shake, hard boiled eggs, nuts such as almonds, protein bars, hummus and veggies such as cucumbers, an apple with peanut butter etc. Dinner can be whatever you want but try to formulate your meals around a lean protein source or healthy fat like salmon adding lots of veggies and a palm size of whole grains. Aim to make half your plate fruits and vegetables, 1/4 (fist size) protein, and 1/4 (palm size) complex carbohydrate such as brown rice, whole grain bread etc.
I understand this information can be overwhelming so I would encourage you to focus on one meal and stick with it before trying to make all these major changes at once.
Attached are some meal plan examples to help you on your journey.
Follow these strategies outlined above and you will be well on your way to optimal cholesterol levels.
Reach out to me for support or questions !