What can I do to lower my Cholesterol? I want to get off meds.
Lifestyle changes are a terrific way to address high cholesterol. As a registered dietitian-nutritionist, I’ll walk you through some things you can do. But keep in mind that some people are genetically wired to produce cholesterol. If that’s the case, it can be more challenging for you to normalize your numbers by diet alone. The suggestions below are a few ways to get started and intended for a general audience. You may need more detailed and specific guidance based on your particular health issues.
- Achieve and maintain a healthy weight. Target a body mass index (or BMI) between 18.5 and 24.9. If you are above this level, weight loss of 10% of your current weight can produce results. As part of this process, eliminate junk food of all kinds and eat fruits, vegetables and whole grains daily.
- Eliminate high-fat meat and dairy products. Saturated fat is a big contributor to cholesterol production. It is found mainly in animal products. This includes meat – beef, pork, lamb, chicken, fish – as well as dairy products, such as milk, yogurt, cheese, ice cream, and butter. The lower the fat content, generally the lower the saturated fat. Red meats tend to have more fat. So, I recommend small and only occasional portions of lean red meat. Certainly poultry, fish, low-fat milk and low-fat cheese are healthier choices. Would you consider a vegetarian diet? Even one that included low-fat dairy and fish could be helpful.
- Eat high fiber foods daily. A certain type of fiber, soluble fiber, is especially helpful. It binds with cholesterol in your intestine and eliminates it with your stool. This type of fiber is found in oats, flax seeds (not the oil), apples, beans and barley, among other foods.
- Other ideas include eating nuts regularly (walnuts have been well studied), and using products with plant stanols or sterols (some margarines include this and are advertised as such).
Along with changes in your diet, be sure to discuss cholesterol goals with your physician or other healthcare worker. As you may know there are several measures that are looked at: total cholesterol, low-density lipoproteins (LDL), and high-density lipoproteins (HDL). LDL is considered a risk factor for heart disease, while HDL is considered beneficial. In deciding whether to prescribe medication or keep you on meds, your doctor will look at these numbers, along with your age, your medical history, your family medical history and other factors.
Bonus points: by following a healthy diet as described above, you can not only lower your cholesterol but also strengthen your entire cardio system (especially if you add an exercise component) and support your immune system. It’s a win-win. Good luck!
Esther Trepal, MS, RDN
April 27, 2015