I come from a family with a long and strong history of hypertension and high cholesterol. Some people are more prone to high cholesterol levels due to genetics, and I am one of those people. Both of my parents had high cholesterol, and I suspect one of my grandfathers did too, since he keeled over dead of a heart attack at age 65. My aunt has high cholesterol and I suspect that there are others. I have one sister who is already on a statin, and another sister whose recent cholesterol level was 267. Not good.
Two years ago my total cholesterol level was in the 240 range. Two weeks ago, my total cholesterol level was 193. For the sake of simplicity, we will mostly discuss total cholesterol levels. Any number under 200 is a good number when it comes to total cholesterol. A number between 200 and 239 is considered to be borderline high and a total cholesterol level over 240 means you have high cholesterol and are at double the risk of developing coronary artery disease.
You also want HDL cholesterol–the good stuff-over 40 if you are a man and at 50 or above if you are a woman. Mine was smack dab at 50. HDL levels over 60 are considered to be heart protective. Nasty LDL cholesterol is best below 129, with under 100 being optimal. Mine was 126 so I would like to see it under 100 even though this is probably fine. Triglycerides are also baddies, and a level of under 150 to be considered optimal. My triglyceride level was 83. I did this without taking a cholesterol lowering statin and it really wasn’t too painful, either. So how did I lower my cholesterol (without eating a single Cheerio)? I made simple lifestyle changes that can benefit anyone, high cholesterol or not. Considering my family history, I am really rather amazed at the results.
When I had my cholesterol level checked two years ago I was considered obese. I was taking a medication that caused me to gain massive amounts of weight and I had always been a skinny person. I stopped taking the medication when I saw my internal medicine doctor who was not the prescriber. The weight started to come right off quickly. I am now within the normal BMI range and while the weight did drop off at first, I had to work at it all along the way. You will read that a weight loss of even 10% of your body weight can lower your cholesterol and your risk of heart disease if you are overweight. That is only 18 lbs if you weight 180. Of course, if you need to lose more than 10% keep right on going, but do lose that 10% because that small percentage of weight lost can make a huge change in your cholesterol levels.
I know that being fat did not help my cholesterol levels, but medical records showed that even when I was 115 pounds that my cholesterol was high. Back then, I was eating some form of meat most every night. I was not eating near enough fruits or vegetables, and I was also on the low end when it came to eating whole grains. So, while I lost weight I also changed what I ate. I had already cut down on meat, but now I rarely eat red meat and I very frequently do not eat any meat at all. I eat beans, nuts, and lowfat dairy, though I do eat full fat cheese which I think that I can get away with because I really do not eat meat.
I eat the recommended number of servings of fruits and vegetables each day. My lunch used to be a three egg omelet with cheese. I thought that was okay since it was also stuffed with spinach and flaked salmon. I switched to egg white omelets (We had chickens and hence, a lot of eggs) and then changed to a lunch of a bowl of fresh fruit with a cup of lite yogurt and a fistful of oatmeal and a couple of tablespoons of flaxseed tossed in. I put oats and flaxseed into anything that didn’t move. I began to eat a lot of vegetables and switched from frozen to fresh as they just taste so much better. Now I always have a package of baby carrots on my counter in the kitchen, so I grab a few ever time I am in the kitchen, all throughout the day. I have numerous recipes, especially soup recipes, that give me 2 or 3 servings of veggies in a bowlful.
If it is white, I do not eat it, or rarely do. While I already ate only whole grain bread before, I changed from white rice to brown and from regular pasta to whole grain pasta. I now make all of my own baked goods so that I know that they are whole grain packed, and my multigrain bread, which is loved by all who taste it, has so many whole grains jammed into it that one piece is like a delicious cholesterol scrub brush. A diet high in fruits, vegetables, and whole grains helps to lower cholesterol and promotes heart health.
I also switched to extra virgin olive oil for nearly all of my cooking needs. Olive oil is a good fat that helps to raise the healthy, HDL cholesterol. I love fish and try to eat it often, but I also take fish oil supplements every day and use flaxseed for those wonderful omega fatty acids, and eat a lot of nuts and nut butters, as nuts are excellent sources or protein as well as helpful in lowering cholesterol. Nuts are calorie dense, so go easy, but do eat them daily. I also switched to a heart healthy margarine with added plant sterols. I like Smart Balance, but Promise is good, too.
Yes, I know that you are sick of hearing it, but you really do need to exercise. Walking briskly for 30 to 45 minutes a day, five times a week is a good start. I find it hard to do that as I am a single mom with a 5 year old who cannot walk briskly for 45 minutes, nor does he want to do that. So, I substitute dance exercise videos and I play games with my son that involve a lot of running. I walk wherever I can and I am up and down the stairs in my house a millions times a day. Now that my son is in preschool, I can get out for a good walk a few times a week, but when it comes to exercise, find something that fits, and just do it.
The Other Stuff
If you smoke, try to quit. I tried and failed and am ready to try again. If you drink, drink in moderation. For a woman that means one drink a day and two a day for a man. I opt for the no drinks per day plan, but that is a whole different article and issue.
Some people will read this article and will take these suggestions and will lower their cholesterol. Others will read it and think about how much they hate vegetables, or they do not want to switch to whole grains, or they have tried to lose weight and cannot, or they are too busy to exercise, and too stressed to stop drinking and smoking.
My sister who is on a statin is obese and she knows it but she chose not to make lifestyle changes. My other sister with the high cholesterol needs to lose weight and eat better and she knows it, and she is ready to do it. Thankfully, I am moving to live with her in three weeks and I am the designated cook, so she’ll have no choice.
Statins are great to have available, but they have numerous side effects, they cost money, and you may need to remain on them for a lifetime. Lifestyle changes may not work for everyone, but they certainly will not work for anyone who will not try to make them. I am not some doctor telling you to make these simple changes, sounding like a broken record. I am a real person who had a real problem and changed it around by making these simple lifestyle changes. You can do it, too.
Top 5 Lifestyle Changes to lower Cholesterol