You wouldn’t have believed my shock when my college physician told me that my cholesterol was high. By every other metric, I was perfectly healthy, but my cholesterol was through the roof; if I recall correctly, it was 230. I was stunned. My cholesterol shouldn’t be high! Not that I was particularly healthy, just, high cholesterol was something that happened to old guys, not to young, virile kids like me. Well, I was certainly scared straight, and from there, I learned everything I could about fixing my cholesterol, and a few years later, I was back down in a healthier range. But before we talk about methods of lowering cholesterol, it might be a good idea to get a clear idea of what cholesterol is.
What Is Cholesterol?
As with most things that can kill you, cholesterol isn’t actually a bad thing. Everyone’s body makes cholesterol, and it’s a necessary part of the functioning of our cells. It’s a waxy type of fat found within all of the cells, producing hormones and helping to digest the food that gives us energy. In large quantities, though, cholesterol is a killer. That waxy fat can build up inside blood vessels and eventually create plaque, a hard substance that clogs the vessels, which can lead to a heart attack or blood clots.
Difference Types of Cholesterol
You’ve probably heard of “good” and “bad” cholesterol, but don’t know what the difference is between the two. The two types of cholesterol are LDL and HDL, specifically, low density lipoprotein and high density lipoprotein. The major difference between the two is, of course, density. The low density cholesterol can easily spread and make issues, whereas the high density cholesterol is capable of absorbing the low density cholesterol and bringing it back to the liver to be processed out. This is why doctors will say LDL is bad cholesterol, and HDL is good cholesterol.
How to Lower Cholesterol
So now that we’ve covered what cholesterol is and why you need to maintain a low amount of it, it’s time to discuss some strategies to keep that cholesterol low. Obviously, these tactics are generally aimed at lowering your LDL in particular, and keep a healthy level of cholesterol overall.
Manage the Fats You Eat
The number one factor when it comes to your cholesterol is the food that you eat, so you need to be sure that you eat the right foods. These changes can make a big difference at any point, whether you’ve had a high cholesterol for years or you just don’t want to develop one. Cholesterol comes from fats, so to make sure that you get the right cholesterol, it’s better to eat the right fats.
You’ll find that all of the fats that come from meats are saturated fats, which means they will add to your LDL. Eat less of those meats, and choose leaner cuts when you do eat meat. You can get a much better type of fats, unsaturated fats, from sources like fish and nuts. The worst type of fat you can eat, trans fats, generally doesn’t come from animals at all. It’s more of a processed food issue, and can be found in tons of foods that come pre-packaged, especially junk food, and is always present in fried food. If you don’t manage anything else, cut out the trans fats from your diet.
Lots of Soluble Fiber
You’ll find soluble fiber in places like oats, fruits, vegetables, and beans. Not only is fiber good for your digestive system and your heart, it’s also been shown to lower your LDL levels, making soluble fiber a multitasker. It’s also a good idea to add whey protein into your diet, as that’s also been known to lower your LDL and your overall cholesterol.
Diet is going to take you a long way in making your cholesterol better, but it won’t fix everything. Creating a good exercise routine is also vital to lowering your cholesterol to healthier levels. Exercising for just a half hour a day will boost your levels of HDL, the good form of cholesterol, and will help you manage your overall cholesterol more effectively. Cardio is the best type of exercise for your heart health, so think about incorporating a jog into your routine, taking breaks throughout your day to do some jumping jacks, or make time to go for a swim after work. It doesn’t really matter what you choose; literally any activity is forward progress, even if it’s just taking the stairs instead of the elevator.
It does go hand in hand with exercising, and heart healthier foods will generally be healthier for your weight as well, but it’s still important enough to warrant its own category. When you’re obese, your body systems are out of whack with their natural rhythm, and have too much ground to regulate and manage. Part of that is your cholesterol; when looking inside the blood vessels of an obese person, you will always find excess cholesterol.
No, the tobacco companies didn’t put trans fats in your cigarettes, although I wouldn’t put it past them, no, the very act of smoking keeps your HDL levels lower, and since your HDL keeps LDL in check, that leads to higher cholesterol levels overall. Granted, if you’re smoking cigarettes in the information age, you already know that they’re not good for you and have made your peace with that, but if cholesterol is a new problem in your life and you’re not sure why, look to the pack in your pocket for a possible reason. Consider cholesterol just another reason that you need to quit.
Limited Alcohol Use
In small amounts, alcohol is actually good for your cholesterol. It actually boosts your HDL levels, so alcohol is not something that you need to avoid. However, those benefits have diminishing returns, and large amounts of alcohol consumption come with its own whole host of health troubles.