Although cholesterol is often portrayed as a dietary villain, in truth cholesterol is essential to human life. The body needs cholesterol to produce sex hormones, cell membranes, vitamin D, bile, and nerve sheaths. The liver manufactures about a gram of this essential cholesterol, called serum cholesterol, every day, which is all the body really needs. The other type of cholesterol is dietary cholesterol. Found in foods, especially animal products, this type of cholesterol can be harmful.
LDL and HDL
To travel through the bloodstream, cholesterol molecules have to attach themselves to special proteins called lipoproteins. Low density lipoproteins (or LDLs) carry about two thirds of cholesterol molecules and high density lipoproteins (or HDLs) carry the remainder. LDLs tend to deposit cholesterol in the artery walls, which leads to an increased risk of heart disease, but HDLs collect cholesterol and take it to the liver to be metabolized and flushed out of the body. For more information about cholesterol levels see the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services website.
Although a doctor may need to prescribe medication to treat high cholesterol, almost anyone can use diet, exercise and relaxation to further reduce blood cholesterol levels.
How to Reduce Bad Cholesterol (LDL) through Diet
- Cut the Fat: Reducing animal fat has the greatest overall effect on lowering LDL (bad cholesterol) levels. Cutting down on or eliminating fatty meats, whole-milk dairy products, and baked goods made with saturated fats (fats and oils which solidify at room temperature) will reduce bad cholesterol levels. Use moderate amounts of olive oil for cooking and avoid fats which are solid at room temperature. Replace red meat with fish; fish oil has been shown to reduce cholesterol.
- White’s Not Right: Increase consumption of whole grains while phasing out foods made with white flour. Oat bran and legumes are full of soluble fiber which binds to cholesterol and ushers it out of the body, reducing blood cholesterol levels. Just ½ cup daily of oat bran and rice bran have been shown to reduce cholesterol by up to 10%.
- Eat a Rainbow: Eating a range of colorful fruits and vegetables is beneficial to overall health, not just cholesterol balance. Red, blue and purple fruits and vegetables are packed with antioxidants which rid the body of free radicals. Orange and yellow fruits and vegetables have beta carotene to protect the body against pollutants and sun damage. Greens have lutein for healthy eyes. Eat at least 5-7 servings of fruits and vegetables of at least three different colors every day. And cook with garlic, which has been shown to reduce harmful blood fats.
Reduce LDL and Boost HDL with Exercise
Studies show that any activity which raises pulse and respiration for more than 20 minutes effectively helps reduce cholesterol levels in the blood; brisk walking is ideal.
Reduce LDL with Relaxation
Meditation, prayer, yoga, and guided imagery are a few popular ways to induce beneficial relaxation, which some studies say reduces LDL in the bloodstream, but anyone can reap the benefits of relaxation by doing this quick and easy exercise:
Find a quiet place and close your eyes. Breathe slowly, and become aware of how your body feels. Starting at your toes, clench and then relax each part of body: toes, then calves, then thighs, hips and buttocks, abdominals, back and shoulders, arms, hands, fingers. Imagine the tension in your body leaving with every exhaled breath.
Lowering blood cholesterol is an important step towards increasing health and well-being. Remember the three basic steps to healthy lifestyle changes:
- Begin with small dietary changes
- Add daily exercise a few minutes at a time, and
- Make relaxation a priority.