Cholesterol itself isn’t inherently bad. Some cholesterol is actually needed by the body to create certain hormones, vitamins, and cells. The key is maintaining a balance that includes enough “good” cholesterol, and lessens “bad” cholesterol. Though cholesterol can be managed through medication, it is also possible to naturally improve your cholesterol levels. Healthy hacks to achieve better cholesterol levels through diet and exercise are outlined below.
Where does cholesterol come from?
Though you might be most familiar with cholesterol from food sources, your liver actually produces all the cholesterol you need. This is the “good” HDL cholesterol that, in proper amounts, is beneficial to your health. The source of “bad” cholesterol comes from eating too many foods that contain unhealthy fats.
What is “good” vs “bad” cholesterol?
HDL or “good” cholesterol is an abbreviation for high density lipoprotein. HDL helps to remove the “bad” cholesterol from your bloodstream. The “bad” cholesterol is LDL or low-density lipoprotein. LDL cholesterol can build up in your bloodstream, causing deposits and decreasing blood flow. In extreme situations, these deposits can lead to a stroke or heart attack. Managing a proper balance of these two types of cholesterol is key for your overall health. Lifestyle changes can greatly improve this balance helping you achieve optimal cholesterol levels.
What are the symptoms of high cholesterol?
Unfortunately, there aren’t any symptoms of high cholesterol until dangerous levels are reached. Since cholesterol is transported through your body via blood, too much of it can clog your arteries and lead to heart disease or stroke. Diagnosis of high cholesterol is achieved through specific blood testing. A lipid profile or lipid panel is usually recommended which measures the amount of cholesterol and triglycerides in your blood.
How do you prepare for a cholesterol test?
The method for undertaking a lipid panel or lipid profile similar to a routine blood test. Blood is drawn, and then the sample is tested for overall cholesterol levels, LDL, HDL, and triglycerides. Some tests require that you fast for 8-12 hours before your blood is drawn. Your doctor will always let you know if you need to fast, and for how long before your test. Click here to read tips and advice about fasting before a blood test.
Health hacks for cholesterol levels
The best way to take care of your cholesterol health is to manage your intake of LDL cholesterol. This paired with other healthy habits can greatly benefit your cholesterol levels. Below we have outlined four hacks for improving your cholesterol health.
Hack 1: Avoid trans-fats
Avoiding trans fats can be a major game-changer in your cholesterol health. Trans fats (or trans fatty acids) consists of vegetable oil that has undergone a chemical industrial process. Food manufacturers do this to create a fat which stays solid at room temperature. Trans fats are desirable to producers because they are inexpensive to manufacture and have a long shelf life. Unfortunately, they have a noted negative impact on your health.
Pay close attention to food labeling and sources of trans fats. By eliminating these foods from your diet, it can remove the major source of “bad” cholesterol from your body and blood. Trans fats can exist in:
- Most fried foods
- Many processed foods
- Vegetable shortening
- Many prepackaged foods – look out for the term “partially hydrogenated oils” which is another name for trans fats.
Hack 2: Avoid saturated fats
Much like trans fats, saturated fats have a negative impact on your overall cholesterol health. Generally, saturated fats also stay solid at room temperature. Unlike manufactured trans fats, they are naturally occurring. Saturated fats shouldn’t account for more than 5% of your daily calorie intake. Saturated fats are in:
- Red meat
- Palm oil
- Coconut oil
Hack 3: increase monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fat intake
The great news is you don’t have to eliminate all fats from your diet to naturally improve your cholesterol levels. Monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats are often called “healthy fats.” This is because they can lower levels of LDL or “bad” cholesterol in your bloodstream. These fats are generally liquid at room temperature, which is a good way to differentiate them from the less healthy fats. Though healthier than other options, consume these in moderate amounts.
Monounsaturated fats are in:
- Certain cooking oils including peanut, sunflower, sesame, and olive oil
Polyunsaturated fats are in:
- Fish and fish oils
- Corn oil
- Soybean oil
- Sunflower oil
Hack 3: up your intake of soluble fiber
Studies have found that eating foods rich in soluble fiber lowers LDL or bad cholesterol in your body. As a bonus, it’s also great for digestion! Incorporate more of these foods into your regular diet and you’ll be naturally improving your cholesterol health. Food sources of soluble fiber include:
- Fruits and vegetables
- Beans and legumes
- Brown rice
- Whole wheat products such as bread and pasta
Hack 4: exercise regularly
Experts agree that regular exercise is beneficial for your cholesterol health by lowering LDL and raising HDL levels. The recommendation for healthy adults to engage in 2.5 to 5 hours of moderate exercise or 1.5 to 3 hours of high intensity exercise per week.
There are many low impact and cost effective options for regular exercise. One of the easiest is to go for walks around your neighbourhood. Others include riding a bike, jogging, or swimming. If you like staying home, online exercise classes, a treadmill, or a stationary bike are a great way to engage in regular exercise. However you exercise, make sure you’re having fun! This is key for maintaining a regular exercise schedule.
Managing your Cholesterol Health
Your Health Lab offers several tests related to your monitoring and measuring your cholesterol health. Depending on your current condition, regular testing along with lifestyle changes can help your overall well being. Speak to your doctor about how you can manage and start improving your cholesterol health.