If you’ve ever suffered from any heart problems, your doctor has probably told you to limit your intake of fatty, fried, or salty foods to reduce your cholesterol or perhaps take up a sport to get your heart pumping. But you may not know that there are two types of cholesterol: One good and one bad–each one working separately in the body.
Your good cholesterol is called high-density lipoprotein (or HDL) cholesterol. Its job is to expel excess cholesterol from the body. Your bad cholesterol, on the other hand, is called low-density lipoprotein (or LDL) cholesterol. LDL cholesterol builds up in the arteries, increasing your risk of developing blood clots, which can in turn lead to heart disease or even a stroke or heart attack.
Having high LDL cholesterol is relatively common: according to the CDC, 95 million Americans aged 20 or older have total cholesterol levels higher than 200 mg/dL. But this doesn’t mean it’s something that should be ignored. On the contrary: high cholesterol can be brought down through the use of medications, exercise, and changes in diet.
As mentioned above, various medications such as statins are effective in lowering cholesterol. Talk to your doctor and ask which medications he or she recommends. In addition to any medications, you should make some dietary changes and start an exercise routine. Any form of cardiovascular exercise will bring down your cholesterol. Try going for a jog or a run three times a week. Even a brisk walk around the block can help reduce your cholesterol levels. Cycling is also a popular sport that helps your heart. Besides cardio, weight-lifting is another form of exercise that has been proven to lower cholesterol.
Some foods you can eat to reduce your cholesterol include:
- Beans. Beans contain healthy amounts of soluble fiber, which can reduce the amount of cholesterol absorbed into the bloodstream.
- Avocados. Some research suggests that eating an avocado a day can lower your cholesterol by a few points.
- Nuts. Eating 2 ounces of nuts a day can lower your LDL (bad) cholesterol. Some heart-healthy nuts include almonds, peanuts, and walnuts.
- Fatty fish, such as salmon or mackerel. Fatty fish contains omega-3 fats, which also lower LDL cholesterol and reduce triglycerides in the blood.
- Whole grains. Oats and barley are two whole grains that can lower your risk of heart disease.
- Fruits. Apples, grapes, and oranges are rich in pectin, which has been proven to lower LDL cholesterol.
- Dark chocolate. A study published in the Journal of the American Heart Association found that dark chocolate, especially when combined with almonds, can significantly reduce your LDL cholesterol levels.
- Soy, for example, in the form of tofu. If you add soy to your diet, your heart will thank you. Eating 25 grams of soy protein a day can lower your LDL cholesterol by 5 to 6 percent.
- Vegetables. It’s known that eating vegetables helps your heart. Try okra and eggplant, both of which are enriched with plant sterols, which can lower cholesterol.
If you start exercising, eating right, and taking medications prescribed by your doctor, you can reduce your LDL levels and live your life with a healthy heart.
Written by Natan Rosenfeld