5 Ways to Control Cholesterol

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For some people, high cholesterol is genetic. Your age and gender may also play a role. Although these are things you can't control, there are other factors you can change. Learning how to manage your cholesterol can help prevent a heart attack or stroke

Here are five ways you can help keep your cholesterol in check:

1. Eat a Heart-Healthy Diet

Eating the right foods is key to managing your cholesterol levels. A heart-healthy diet includes a variety of fruits and vegetables. You should also eat whole grains, nuts, fish, and poultry as well as low-fat dairy products. Portion size is also important. At mealtime, fruits and vegetables should take up half your plate. 

Each day you should consume:

  • 1½ to 2 cups of fruit
  • 2½ to 3 cups of vegetables
  • 6 to 8 ounces of whole grains like brown rice or whole-grain bread 
  • About 3 cups of low-fat or fat-free dairy products like yogurt or skim milk 
  • 5½ to 6 ounces of lean protein like skinless chicken, fish, tofu, beans, nuts, or seeds 

2. Know the Difference Between "Good" and "Bad" Fats

Fat should make up 25 to 35% of your total daily calories. However, not all fat is the same. There are four different types:

  • Monounsaturated fats
  • Polyunsaturated fats
  • Saturated fats
  • Trans fats 

Saturated and trans fats are usually more solid at room temperature, like butter. On the other hand, monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats are more liquid like olive oil. Saturated fats come from animal products like whole milk and fatty cuts of meat. They are also in some plant foods, such as coconut oil and palm oil. These fats are more likely to raise your "bad" cholesterol level. That's low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol.

Trans fats are made by adding hydrogen to liquid vegetable oil. A lot of processed snack foods have trans fats. Trans fats raise your LDL and lower your high-density lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol, which is the “good” kind of cholesterol your body needs.

Both saturated and trans fats increase your risk of heart disease. Your saturated fat intake should be less than 7% of your total daily calories. You should avoid trans fats entirely. 

Unsaturated fat has a positive effect on your cholesterol. Unsaturated fats like omega-3s and 6s are in many delicious foods, such as salmon, walnuts and avocados. Unsaturated fats can help raise your HDL. They can reduce your risk of heart disease. These healthy fats carry artery-clogging cholesterol away from your heart to your liver. From there it's removed from the body.

3. Maintain a Healthy Weight

Being overweight can raise your LDL and lower your HDL. Losing extra pounds can have the opposite effect. Triglycerides are another type of fat in your blood. They, too, can increase your risk of heart disease. As with LDL, losing weight can reduce your triglyceride levels and protect your heart health. 

4. Exercise

Physical activity is also important for managing cholesterol. You should get at least 30 minutes of moderate- to high-intensity exercise five days a week. Research shows that the higher the intensity, the greater the benefit. This can help raise your HDL and reduce your risk of heart disease. Exercise also helps you maintain a healthy weight.

5. Quit Smoking

Not smoking and avoiding exposure to secondhand smoke is very important for the health of your heart. Smoking is a leading cause of heart disease. It can raise your triglycerides and lower your HDL. Smoking can also damage your blood vessels and lead to the formation of clots, which can block blood flow to your heart.

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Medical Reviewer: William C. Lloyd III, MD, FACS
Last Review Date: 2020 Oct 8
THIS TOOL DOES NOT PROVIDE MEDICAL ADVICE. It is intended for informational purposes only. It is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Never ignore professional medical advice in seeking treatment because of something you have read on the site. If you think you may have a medical emergency, immediately call your doctor or dial 911.

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