Like fried foods and sweets? Drink alcohol or smoke? Have a family history of heart disease? Even if you answered No to all these questions, you still might be at risk for a cardiovascular event if your cholesterol levels are elevated.
Hyperlipidemia is one of the most prevalent disease conditions in the United States with 71 million American adults (33.5%) having high levels of low-density lipoprotein (LDL), or “bad,” cholesterol. According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), individuals with high cholesterol levels are at almost double the risk for heart disease compared to with lower levels.
So, what can you do to lower your cholesterol? Well, first visit with a physician to be properly evaluated and see if diagnostic tests and medication are needed. Then, visit a health coach, dietician and fitness instructor to gain valuable insight on how to customize your diet and lifestyle naturally to reduce your cholesterol. And somewhere in between, look into the following holistic tips to guide you on actions you can take towards a healthier you.
- Take a good look at your source of protein - Studies show that a lean, plant-based protein source from a holistic diet rich in whole grains, fruits and vegetables, has helped individuals reduce cholesterol found in meat and processed animal byproducts. Try to cut down on the quantity of red meat, pork and poultry in your diet to a maximum of 5oz per day and add in lean plant protein like legumes that include beans, peas and lentils. Visit the Mayo Clinic website for ideas about the types of beans and their preparation.
- Make steel cut oats your breakfast - Also referred to as Scotch, Irish or Pinhead oats, steel cut oats have the same nutrition as their rolled oats cousin, but with the added benefit of being a minimally processed whole grain. Steel cut oats are recommended in a holistic diet because they are less refined than rolled oats and are rich in cholesterol-lowering fiber. Just a 1/4-cup serving of steel cut oats has 2 grams of soluble fiber equal to 15% of the U.S. Department of Agriculture's recommended daily allowance of fiber for healthy adults adhering to a 2,000-calorie diet.
- Reduce your gluten - Although whole wheat grains containing gluten are an important part of a holistic diet, many Americans now suffer from an intolerance or true allergy to gluten from its widespread use in refined wheat products. Since gluten is somewhat difficult to digest and can be inflammatory to the body, perhaps consider reducing the amount of gluten in your diet, buying organic whole grains or trying some gluten-free whole grains like quinoa or brown rice. Although reducing gluten will not directly lower cholesterol, having less gluten in your diet may help prevent inflammatory damage to blood vessels and lower your risk for cardiovascular disease.
- Get Fit 1hr per Day - Exercise is an excellent way of increasing your "good" cholesterol, high density lipoprotein (HDL). Research shows that a consistent exercise regimen of 30 min or more can improve HDL. Studies have also demonstrated that exercise can lower triglycerides. Triglycerides are a type of fat (lipid) found in your blood after digesting a meal. Elevated levels of triglycerides can remain in the blood and increase your risk of a cardiovascular events.
- Go Low-Fat or Dairy-Free - Dairy like full-fat cheese, ice cream, butter and eggs can be hidden sources of cholesterol. Take stock of the dairy in your diet and read each label carefully for fat and cholesterol levels. Then, perhaps choose a cheese that is lower in fat or a fresh, soft cheese that has undergone less aging. Also think about cutting back on the number of eggs in your diet or switching to egg whites since the National Cholesterol Education Program of the U.S. National Institutes of Health recommends no more than 2 egg yolks per week for persons with high cholesterol.
- Get "seedy" with Flax - Packed with omega-3 rich fatty acids, flax seeds have been shown to lower LDL cholesterol. Flax seeds can be difficult to digest for some individuals so perhaps grind organic flax seeds and sprinkle one half to one teaspoon of powder in vegetable smoothies, soups or over salads.
- Check your blood sugar - Increased sugar levels create inflammation in the body that damages blood vessels, making them more prone to LDL and triglycerides adhering to them, building up and blocking blood flow to the heart. Visiting with your doctor to perform some simple blood tests will indicate how much sugar is present in your body. Fasting blood glucose and Hemoglobin A1C are two of these tests that can help keep your blood sugar in check.
It's never too early to adopt a holistic lifestyle and get healthy. Since high cholesterol doesn't always present with obesity or specific symptoms, it's best to have your lipids checked regularly by a physician. For better health, begin a holistic lifestyle today!