Over 110 million people in the United States have high blood cholesterol levels. Known as hyperlipidemia, this “silent” and exceptionally common condition is a significant risk factor for heart disease and stroke, two leading causes of death among American adults.
Finding out you have high cholesterol can be concerning, but it’s also the first step toward getting this serious problem under control before it undermines your health. At Woodlands Vein Center & Preventative Medicine Clinic in Shenandoah, Texas, our in-depth cholesterol management approach consists of four important components of care:
- Heart-healthy dietary changes
- Key lifestyle recommendations
- Cholesterol-lowering medicine
- Existing chronic disease control
Read on as board-certified nurse practitioner and clinical lipid specialist Eliza Codd, ARNP, FNP-BC, AG-ACNP-BC, CLS, takes a closer look at how your eating patterns can influence your cholesterol levels, for better or worse: Just as the wrong foods can elevate your blood lipid levels, the right foods can help you bring them back under control.
A short tutorial on blood cholesterol
Cholesterol is an essential waxy substance that’s found in your blood and body cells. Your liver produces all the cholesterol you need to keep your cells and organs healthy, but certain dietary choices can increase your cholesterol levels.
If a blood lipid panel reveals that you have high cholesterol, it means there’s too much “bad” low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol circulating in your bloodstream. LDL cholesterol builds up within the walls of your blood vessels and makes them hard and inflexible, elevating your risk of heart disease and stroke.
Your cholesterol profile can also be unhealthy if you have:
- Low levels of high-density lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol, the “good” kind that picks up excess blood cholesterol and carries it back to your liver for processing
- High triglycerides, a type of blood-circulating fat that your body uses for energy
Because HDL cholesterol helps keep your LDL and total cholesterol levels in check, having low HDL cholesterol — especially if you also have high triglycerides and/or high LDL cholesterol levels — leaves you more vulnerable to having a heart attack or stroke.
Foods that promote high cholesterol
While foods that contain cholesterol — like red meat, eggs, and full-fat dairy products — can raise your cholesterol levels, it’s really saturated fat (and trans fat) that you should watch out for. Why? A high-fat diet that’s rich in unhealthy fats increases your blood cholesterol levels by prompting your liver to produce more cholesterol.
Fatty foods that are notorious for raising total and LDL cholesterol levels include:
- Red meat, including beef, ribs, pork chops, and lamb
- Processed meat, like hot dogs, sausage, and bacon
- Fried foods, including French fries and fried chicken
- Baked goods like donuts, cookies, cake, and muffins
- Full-fat dairy products such as cheese and whole milk
The first dietary step toward reducing high cholesterol levels is limiting your fat intake: No more than 25-35% of your daily calories should come from fat, and saturated fat should account for less than 7% of your daily calories.
Cholesterol-lowering dietary patterns
While restricting your intake of saturated fats can have a positive effect on your cholesterol numbers, increasing your consumption of foods that actively reduce blood cholesterol levels is just as important.
Beneficial nutrients and natural compounds that promote healthier cholesterol levels include soluble dietary fiber, plant sterols and stanols (phytosterols), and polyunsaturated fatty acids. To achieve healthier cholesterol numbers, we recommend that you:
Get plenty of soluble fiber
Soluble dietary fiber binds to cholesterol and its precursors in your digestive system and drags them out of your body, preventing them from entering your bloodstream. Foods that are rich in soluble fiber include:
- Whole-grain cereals such as oatmeal, oat bran, and barley
- Fruits such as apples, pears, berries, oranges, and prunes
- Legumes such as lentils, kidney beans, chickpeas, and lima beans
Getting five to 10 grams (or more) of soluble fiber each day has been shown to reduce LDL and total cholesterol levels.
Eat more fruits and vegetables
Finding ways to eat more fruits and vegetables throughout the day helps increase your intake of potent cholesterol-lowering compounds known as plant stanols or sterols. Like soluble fiber, phytosterols block your body from absorbing cholesterol in the digestive tract.
Consume polyunsaturated fats
Heart-healthy, polyunsaturated fatty acids, which are found in certain plant and animal foods, can directly lower LDL and total cholesterol levels. Polyunsaturated fats include omega-3 fatty acids, which help lower triglyceride levels and boost healthy HDL cholesterol levels.
Foods that are rich in polyunsaturated fats include walnuts, sunflower seeds, flaxseeds, and soybean oil; fatty fish like salmon and tuna are excellent sources of omega-3 fatty acids.
Healthy cholesterol levels are in reach
Looking to reduce your cholesterol levels? We can help. Call or click online and schedule a visit at Woodlands Vein Center & Preventative Medicine Clinic in Shenandoah, Texas, today.