Cholesterol, in and of itself, isn’t a bad thing. In fact, it’s a naturally occurring substance and our own bodies produce about 75 percent of the cholesterol in our blood. The other 25 percent comes from the foods we eat (cholesterol is only found in animal products).
The problem with cholesterol comes when it gets out of balance—that’s when it can lead to heart disease, heart attack and stroke.
But there’s good news: it’s something we can help control.
By engaging in at least 150 minutes of moderate exercise a week, avoiding tobacco smoke and eating a heart-healthy diet, you can actually play an active role in lowering your cholesterol.
Suzanne Steinbaum, M.D., Director at the Heart and Vascular Institute at Lenox Hill Hospital in New York and author of Dr. Suzanne Steinbaum’s Heart Book: Every Woman’s Guide to a Heart Healthy Life – Reduce the Effects of Stress, Promote Heart Health and Restore Balance in Your Life, says that when modifying what you eat, it’s important to avoid fad diets, and instead, learn to make consistent healthy choices that you can sustain, long term. She says that when you’ve learned to make the right choices, those choices become a way of life and can help you eventually change your lifestyle. Then, you no longer have to actively think about what to eat and what to avoid.
Healthy eating requires planning, but a little bit of thought goes a long way toward a better life. The American Heart Association recommends that you eat a wide variety of nutritious foods daily from each of the basic food groups. To get the nutrients you need, choose foods like vegetables, fruits, fiber-rich whole-grain breads and cereals and fat-free or low-fat dairy products most often.
Foods that can help lower cholesterol
- A variety of whole- and multi-grain products, such as bran and oats
- Fatty fishes, such as salmon, mackerel and albacore tuna
- Foods rich in antioxidants, such as fruits and vegetables
- Foods high in omega-3 fatty acids, such as avocado, flax seeds, olive oil and canola oil
- Foods rich in plant sterols, such as nuts like walnuts and almonds
The American Heart Association lists these foods to avoid (or consume in moderation):
Foods to avoid (or consume in moderation)
- Animal products high in saturated fat (beef, lamb, veal, pork, duck, goose, cream, cheese, butter, egg yolk)
- Fried foods
- High-fat processed meats, such as hot dogs and sausages
- Simple sugars (found in soft drinks, candy, cakes, cookies and other baked goods)
- Saturated oils, such as coconut and palm oil
- Shortening, partially hydrogenated margarine and lard