Since we hear so much about lowering our cholesterol, I think it’s important to put things in their proper perspective. Cholesterol is not a poison that has to be avoided at all times. It is found in all mammals and is an essential structural component of the cell membranes. In order to build and maintain cell membranes, your body requires cholesterol.
However, high levels of cholesterol -in particular the bad cholesterol or LDL – may cause blockage of the arteries which increases your risk of heart disease and stroke. High levels of cholesterol are caused when there is more cholesterol in your body than is needed. This usually happens because of genetics, poor diet and lack of exercise. Your body must now find a way to get rid of the excess cholesterol.
The extra cholesterol travels through the blood stream and may form plagues on the artery walls, which mean that the arteries become narrower and may even harden. In cases of complete blockage, a heart attack or stroke may be the result. The point is that we have to control our cholesterol intake in order to prevent the above from happening. The good news is that there are ways to do so without prescribed medication.
When you are diagnosed with high cholesterol, you may initially need to take prescription drugs to lower the cholesterol quickly. However, this does not necessarily mean that you are doomed to take medication for the rest of your life. There are ways to lower your cholesterol levels naturally and therefore also without the side-effects associated with prescription drugs. A balanced combination of a healthy diet and an effective exercise plan may be more beneficial to you than many medications.
What you can do to lower your cholesterol naturally:
Healthy Diet and Eating Habits
- Lower your intake of meat, butter, full-cream milk and cheese to lower saturated fats in your diet. Although your body produces its own cholesterol, about 25% of your cholesterol comes from food intake. All animal fats are saturated fats, so you’ll find that meat, butter, full-cream milk and cheese are high in cholesterol-increasing fats. These fats increase the levels of the bad cholesterol in your body, namely LDL. On the other hand, consuming unsaturated fats decreases the bad cholesterol levels. Monounsaturated fats (which are good for you) are found in peanut butter, avocado, olive oil and canola oil
- Include more fish in your diet to increase your intake of Omega 3 fatty acids. These have been shown to lower cholesterol and can be found in especially the oily fish varieties which are typically found in cold water. Examples of fish rich in Omega 3 are tuna, herring, trout, pink salmon, sardines and mackerel. Ensure that you do not add unhealthy fats when cooking the fish. Baking or grilling is the healthiest way to go. If eating fish is not your thing, you may use the supplements. It must be said, however, that eating fish is more effective in lowering the levels of LDL than taking supplements. Other food sources rich in Omega 3 are the green, leafy vegetables, certain nuts such as walnuts and almonds as well as soy products. It is important to note that the capacity of Omega 3 to lower cholesterol is enhanced when the intake of saturated fats are lowered. So, in essence, you have to let go of the bad thing to properly enjoy the benefits of the good thing.
- Eat more fresh fruit and vegetables to add more soluble fibre to your diet. Soluble fibre binds itself to cholesterol-rich bile acids in the intestines and escorts them out of the body. Foods that contain cholesterol-lowering soluble fibre include fruits, vegetables, brown rice, oats and barley. Aim to eat daily servings of 5 fresh fruit and vegetables daily. Apples contain a specific soluble fibre called pectin which lowers cholesterol.
- Pectin has the added benefit of preventing overeating since it slows the digestive process. Include some garlic in your diet. It is rich in cholesterol lowering compounds. Should we be too busy to prepare proper meals, we are simply being too busy and besides that, a consistently unhealthy diet will ultimately catch up with us and then we will have to make time to fix all our health issues. Time invested in preparing proper meals is time wisely invested. Fast foods increase the levels of cholesterol in our body and have many other negative effects on our general health too.
- Certain culinary herbs, such as parsley, have cholesterol-lowering compounds and add great taste to meals.
- Drinks like fruit and vegetable juices, as well as green tea, have been shown to lower cholesterol.
- Don’t snack mindlessly. Think about what you put into your mouth. We often just grab something to snack on, not because we are hungry, but simply because it was there for the taking. Giving some thought to what we eat, already takes us a long way in controlling our weight. Eating should be a conscious action. Which brings me to the next point:
- Take time to enjoy your meal.
Please Note: When embarking on a new exercise plan (especially if you have been unfit before the time), please discuss your plans with your doctor.
Scientific studies have shown that exercise decreases the bad cholesterol as it reverses the build up of cholesterol on the artery walls. Besides lowering the cholesterol, exercise also helps with weight loss, which is great since carrying extra weight increases cholesterol. Aerobic activity such as walking, cycling and running -any activity that gets your heart pumping, can lower the cholesterol levels. Exercises also stimulate the release of the feel-good hormones, endorphins which helps us to relax and thereby lower our stress levels.
Decrease Stress Levels
Life is stressful. We all know that from experience. We have also learnt that there will always be ample reason to stress, since a challenge isn’t something that comes our way once only. There will always be challenges. There are certain things we cannot change. We can go a long way in reducing our stress by focusing less on the things we can’t change and pour our energies into what we can change.
There are many different stress-relieving techniques out there. Having a regular massage, practicing deep breathing, or just walking have been shown to significantly decrease stress levels. There is no one-size-fits-all when it comes to stress-relief. Take the time to find a way that works for you. Think of something you enjoy doing. That’s usually a good indicator of what will work to relief your stress levels.
Educate Yourself Concerning your Condition
Find out as much as you can about high levels of cholesterol and its effects on the body. In this way, you will empower yourself to take charge of your condition. Speak to your family doctor, dietitian, read books on the topic and visit websites. Don’t be afraid to ask questions. The more you know concerning the harmful effects of high cholesterol, the better you will be able to make beneficial lifestyle changes. And be sure to have regular medical check-ups.