September is National Cholesterol Awareness Month. This is a good time to learn about lipids, get your blood cholesterol checked, and take steps to lower it if it is high. The National Cholesterol Education Program (NCEP)recommends that adults aged 20 years or older have their cholesterol checked every 5 years.
Cholesterol is a waxy, fat-like substance found in your body and many foods. Your body needs cholesterol to function normally and makes all that you need. Too much cholesterol can build up in your arteries. After a while, these deposits narrow your arteries, putting you at risk for heart disease and stroke.
There are two kinds of cholesterol, high-density lipoprotein (HDL). It is also called “good” cholesterol. There is also low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol. It is also called “bad” cholesterol. When high cholesterol is mentioned, it is referencing “bad” LDL cholesterol.
The Center for Disease Control reports that more than 102 million American Adults (20 years or older) have total cholesterol levels at or above 200 mg/dL, which is above healthy levels. More than 35 million of these people have levels of 240 mg/dL or higher, which puts them at high risk for heart disease.
Desirable Cholesterol Levels
Less than 170 mg/dL
Low LDL (“bad”) cholesterol
Less than 110 mg/dL
High HDL (“good”) cholesterol
Ways to Lower Your Cholesterol
1. Don’t Smoke. Smoking lowers levels of HDL, the good cholesterol, and it is a major risk factor for heart disease.
2. Move More. In addition to lowering LDL “bad” cholesterol, regular physical activity can raise HDL “good” cholesterol by up to 10%. The benefits come even with moderate exercise, such as walking.
3. Avoid saturated fat. Contrary to prior belief, cholesterol-rich foods – such as eggs, don’t do all that much to raise cholesterol. More recent data has shown that saturated fat causes a more significant increase in cholesterol.
4. Eat more fiber! Fruits and vegetables, including whole grains, are good sources not only of heart-healthy antioxidants but also cholesterol-lowering dietary fiber. Soluble fiber, in particular, can help lower cholesterol.
5. Get your omegas up. Fish and fish oil are chockablock with cholesterol-lowering omega-3 fatty acids. The American Heart Association also recommends fish as the preferable source of omega-3s, but fish oil capsule supplements can be considered after consultation with your physician. Plant sources of omega-3s include soybeans, canola, flaxseeds, walnuts, and their oils, but they don’t provide the same omega-3s as fish.
6. Try Green Tea Green tea is great alternative to sugar filled soft drinks. Research has shown that green tea contains compounds that can aid in lowering LDL cholesterol.