How to Reduce Your Cholesterol

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Everyone knows that high blood cholesterol leads to blocked arteries and heart disease. But many people aren't aware that their blood cholesterol levels have shot up, since there are often no obvious symptoms. Unpleasantly surprised by your most recent blood-test results? Better take these steps to heart.

Decrease your fat intake to 30 percent of daily calories. (A lower fat level would best be recommended by a physician.)

Lower the amount of saturated fat you consume. Saturated fats will drive up your cholesterol more than any other food. They're found in foods derived from animal sources and certain tropical plants--for example, marbling and untrimmed fat in meat, chicken skin, butter, dairy products and coconut oil.

In place of saturated fats and trans fats (see Tips), substitute small amounts of polyunsaturated fats and, in particular, monounsaturated fats such as olive, canola and nut oils.

Lower the amount of cholesterol in your diet to less than 300 mg per day. Cholesterol is found in foods with animal origins, such as meat, poultry, fish, shellfish, egg yolks, cheese, ice cream and whole milk. When eating meat, decrease your serving size. Switch to skim milk and avoid processed meat products.

Eat plenty of fruits, vegetables and whole grains, foods that tend to be low in fat and dense in nutrients.

Exercise for 30 minutes at least four times a week. Even two 15-minute or three 10-minute exercise breaks are beneficial.

Incorporate physical activity into your daily life. Take the stairs. Get off the bus early or park farther from entrances than usual.

Establish a program of regular, vigorous exercise. Finding an exercise buddy will inspire you to reach your goals.

Shedding even a small amount of weight helps lower your cholesterol level. Lose the weight through slow, long-term diet changes and regular exercise, not by a crash diet.

Avoid prepared low-fat and nonfat foods that are high in sugar. You need to lower your overall calorie intake as well as your fat calories, and many of those products are high in calories.

You may want to look for a structured program that offers support and professional expertise, one that will help you understand and change behavioral patterns.

Tips & Warnings

  • For adults over 20 years old, the ideal blood cholesterol level is less than 200 mg/dl, while levels over 200 mg/dl are considered elevated.
  • There are two kinds of blood cholesterol: low-density lipoproteins (LDL), which will clog your arteries, and high-density lipoproteins (HDL), which help your body clean out blood cholesterol.
  • Physical activity helps strengthen your heart and can increase the ratio of HDL to LDL.
  • To identify fats, remember that most saturated fats are solid at room temperature. Monounsaturated fats tend to be liquid at room temperature but harden when chilled.
  • Limit your intake of trans fats, or trans-fatty acids, which lower HDL and raise LDL. Trans fats are found in commercial baked goods such as cookies and crackers and in fast food.
  • Schedule regular physical exams and consult with your physician before adopting any new diet or exercise program.

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