Written by Health Writer Gerda Venter
Medically reviewed by Dr. Daniela Steyn
Cholesterol is a naturally occurring lipid (fatty substance) found in your bloodstream and all body cells. There are two types of cholesterol: high-density lipoprotein (HDL) and low-density lipoprotein (LDL). HDL is considered the "good" cholesterol because it helps remove cholesterol from the arteries and transport it to the liver, where it is broken down and eliminated from the body. LDL is considered the "bad" cholesterol because it can contribute to plaque formation on the inside of the arteries.
The body needs to maintain an average cholesterol level because cholesterol is used to produce hormones, vitamin D, and acids necessary for cell function. When cholesterol levels become too high, it can build up on the inside of your artery walls, narrowing the arteries and making it difficult for blood to flow. This build-up significantly increase your risk of heart disease, stroke, and other cardiovascular issues.
There are many ways to increase HDL (good) cholesterol and lower LDL (bad) cholesterol naturally without medication. Let's look at some tried and tested methods:
1. Eat a Healthy Diet
Your body needs to have cholesterol because it is required to build new cells, produce hormones, and digest food. Cholesterol is made in the liver, and your body also gets cholesterol from food. Dietary cholesterol is a type of lipid that is found in food. Avoiding foods high in cholesterol is your first defense against high cholesterol levels. This includes fatty meats, full-fat dairy products, and processed foods.
Here are three tips to lower cholesterol with your diet and help reduce your risk of heart disease:
1.1 Eat Foods Rich in Soluble Fiber
Soluble fiber, such as pectin and gum found inside the plant cells, dissolves in water to form a gel-like paste. The gel-like paste softens stool and helps slow the movement of the digested material through the digestive tract. This increases nutrient absorption and provides a feeling of fullness for a longer period, therefore reducing overall calorie intake. Soluble fiber also binds to bile acids in the intestines and promotes their excretion. Because the liver filters cholesterol from the blood to produce bile acids, the more bile acids your body produces the lower your blood cholesterol level. Eating soluble fiber can therefore help regulate blood cholesterol levels and lower your risk for heart disease. In short, soluble fiber nourishes healthy probiotic gut bacteria and helps removes LDL cholesterol from the body. To help lower cholesterol, try to eat 35 g of fiber per day from fiber-rich foods.
Some of the best sources of soluble fiber include:
Beans and lentils
1.2 Eat a Variety of Unsaturated Fats
There are two main kinds of fats found in food: saturated and unsaturated. Saturated fats pack together tightly and stay solid at room temperature. On the other hand, unsaturated fats do not join as tightly, making them liquid at room temperature. People who eat more unsaturated fats and fewer saturated fats tend to have lower cholesterol levels over time.
Foods that contain ample heart-healthy unsaturated fats include:
1.3 Avoid Artificial Trans Fats
While trans fats occur naturally in red meat and dairy products, people consume artificial trans fat mainly through fats used in many restaurants and processed foods. This is because trans fats are a significantly cheaper fat source than natural saturated fats. Naturally occurring trans fats in meat and dairy products can also raise LDL cholesterol. However, they're present in small enough quantities to generally not be considered a significant health risk.
Artificial trans fats are produced by hydrogenating — or adding hydrogen to — unsaturated fats such as vegetable oils to change their structure and solidify them at room temperature. This is done to make the unsaturated fats in vegetable oils more stable. The resulting trans fats are not fully saturated and are called partially hydrogenated oils (PHOs). Their increased texture, as well as shelf stability, is what makes trans fats so attractive to food companies. But partially hydrogenated trans fats are handled differently in the body than other fats and not in a good way. Trans fats increase total cholesterol and LDL but decrease beneficial HDL.
The good news is that the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) banned artificial PHOs, better known as trans fats, in processed foods. The World Health Organization (WHO) also made a global call to eliminate industrially-produced trans fats from the global food supply by 2023.
In general, you should watch out for the words "partially hydrogenated" in ingredients lists. This term indicates that the food contains trans-fat and should be avoided. Foods that commonly contain trans fats include:
Margarine and shortening
Pastries and other baked goods
Some microwaveable popcorn
Fried fast foods
Nondairy coffee creamer
Some specific foods that can help to lower cholesterol include:
Oats: Oats are a good source of soluble fiber.
Yogurt: Yogurt is a good source of calcium and probiotics, both of which can help to reduce cholesterol levels.
Nuts: Nuts are a good source of healthy fats and fiber.
Fish: Fish is a good source of omega-3 fatty acids, which can help to reduce cholesterol levels.
Olive oil is a good source of healthy fats.
Eating a healthy diet and including these cholesterol-lowering foods in your diet is a great way to improve your cholesterol levels and protect your heart health.
2. Exercise Regularly
Exercise helps improve your cholesterol levels by increasing HDL cholesterol (the good cholesterol) and reducing the amount of LDL cholesterol (the bad cholesterol) in your blood. There are many benefits to exercise when trying to lower cholesterol levels. Exercise can help burn cholesterol built up in the arteries over time.
In addition, exercise can also aid weight loss, another critical factor in lowering cholesterol levels. When combined with a healthy diet, exercise can effectively reduce cholesterol and improve heart health.
3. Change Your Lifestyle
Another way to lower your cholesterol levels is by making some lifestyle changes. Quitting smoking, reducing your alcohol intake, and maintaining a healthy weight are all important ways to keep your cholesterol levels in check.
There are many benefits to weight loss when it comes to cholesterol levels. Excess weight or obesity can increase your risk of developing high cholesterol levels. Every 10 pounds of excess fat produces roughly 10 mg of cholesterol per day. The good news is that losing weight, if you have excess weight, can decrease your cholesterol levels.
When you lose weight, your cholesterol levels naturally start to go down. When you are overweight, your body produces more cholesterol than it needs. When you lose weight, your body, therefore, has less cholesterol.
Many people don't realize that drinking alcohol and smoking can significantly impact your cholesterol levels. When you smoke, the nicotine in cigarettes causes your body to release more cholesterol into the bloodstream.
Similarly, research has shown that alcohol can raise your LDL levels and lower your HDL levels. So how much alcohol is too much? According to the American Heart Association, men should limit themselves to no more than two drinks per day, and women should stick to one drink per day.
3. Try Cholesterol-Lowering Supplements
In addition to making dietary and lifestyle changes, exercising more, and avoiding cholesterol-inducing food sources, you can also try to lower your cholesterol by including some cholesterol-lowering supplements in your diet. There is strong evidence that fish oil and soluble fiber improve cholesterol and promote heart health. Another supplement, coenzyme Q10, shows promise in improving cholesterol, although its long-term benefits are not yet known.
Fish oil supplements are a popular choice for people looking to lower their cholesterol. Fish oil supplements contain omega-3 fatty acids, which are beneficial for heart health. These fatty acids help reduce inflammation and prevent plaque buildup in the arteries. This, in turn, lowers cholesterol levels and helps to keep the heart healthy.
There are many different brands of fish oil supplements on the market, so it's essential to do your research and choose a quality product. Look for a supplement that contains EPA and DHA, two of the most beneficial omega-3 fatty acids, and make sure it has been third-party tested for purity and potency.
Taking fish oil supplements daily is the best way to ensure you get the desired cholesterol-lowering benefits. Start with a lower dose and increase gradually as needed. Be sure to talk to your doctor before starting any supplement, especially if you have a medical condition or are taking medication.
Psyllium is a soluble fiber that can help to reduce LDL (harmful) cholesterol levels and increase HDL (good) cholesterol levels. It works by binding to bile acids in the intestine, which helps to reduce the absorption of cholesterol into the bloodstream. Psyllium is available in various forms, including powders, capsules, and tablets. It is essential to take psyllium supplements with plenty of water, as they can cause constipation if not taken correctly. Psyllium is generally considered safe, but it can cause side effects such as bloating, gas, and diarrhea. If you have any concerns about taking psyllium supplements, speak to your healthcare provider.
Coenzyme Q10 is a natural substance that is produced by the body. It is also found in small amounts in certain foods, such as meat and fish. Coenzyme Q10 plays a vital role in the production of energy in cells. Studies have shown that coenzyme Q10 can help lower cholesterol levels. Coenzyme Q10 supplements are available in most health food stores and online. They are usually taken in capsule form.
In conclusion, there are many ways to lower your cholesterol naturally. Diet, exercise, and lifestyle changes are all effective ways to reduce your cholesterol levels and improve cardiovascular health. Adding supplements to your diet will aid in maintaining low cholesterol levels. Implementing one or more of these strategies can help you achieve healthy cholesterol levels and significantly reduce your risk of heart disease.
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