A preliminary report released in 2014 noted that “cholesterol is not considered a nutrient of concern for over-consumption,” meaning it might matter less how much cholesterol is in the foods we eat.
That doesn’t mean people should go wild with a pound of bacon each morning.
Thomas Boyden, MD, a Spectrum Health cardiovascular physician, said he believes diet and exercise are two of the most important components of cholesterol management.
“I am 100 percent for patients doing everything they can for themselves and ultimately taking responsibility for their own health,” Dr. Boyden said. “If patients were more focused on diet and routine aerobic activity, many would realize they have the opportunity to improve their overall health and reduce their chance of heart disease and stroke, potentially without the need for medications.”
Dr. Boyden said some people have inherent genetic risks or other illnesses and are at higher risk than others. These patients oftentimes cannot fix their cholesterol numbers with diet and exercise alone, so he advocates for medication in these cases.
If you have high cholesterol, here’s what you need to know:
Avoid fatty foods, but know that not all fat is bad fat. The worst are trans fats and saturated fats, which are mostly found in processed foods and fatty meats. Eating less of each of these will benefit a patient’s cholesterol levels. Beef and red meats should be consumed in moderation.
Try to eat a balanced diet rich in fruits and vegetables and non-animal based proteins. Soy products, beans and fish (which has a better fat composition than other animal products) are all great to incorporate into your diet. Introducing fish into your diet a couple times per week can make a noticeable difference.
The more aerobic activity you can work into your routine, the better. Moderate aerobic activity is less likely to affect weight loss, but it can lower cholesterol and blood pressure, and helps control blood sugar. Exercise improves mental capacity, makes bones strong and improves mood. Any exercise is helpful, so don’t feel that you need to train like an athlete. Just 20 – 30 minutes per day of moderate activity has proven benefits. The key is to get your pulse and breathing elevated, but there is no need to push yourself to extremes.
It is important to know family history and whether you have a higher disposition to illnesses and risk factors. Are you overweight? Do you have diabetes or high blood pressure? And do any of these conditions run in your family? Talk to your doctor about how your genetics could affect your health now and in the future.
If you have high cholesterol, high blood pressure and/or diabetes, it’s important to speak with a physician to create a personalized treatment plan that works for you. Your doctor can conduct an individualized risk assessment and help you determine what might work best for you.
Learn about the effects of cholesterol on your health at a free vascular screening. To qualify for a free screening, you must have at least two of the following risk factors:
- Age 60 or older
- History of smoking
- High cholesterol
- Family history of abdominal aortic aneurysm
- Family history of atherosclerosis before age 60