With so many different ways to lower your cholesterol, no wonder it can get confusing.
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Cholesterol-lowering medications can do wonders for someone who has coronary artery disease or carotid artery disease. However, for others, it’s important to know how to lower cholesterol naturally.
Preventative cardiologist Leslie Cho, MD, shares some proven ways to lower cholesterol naturally:
1. Modify your eating habits
A great way to lower your cholesterol naturally is to start by replacing unhealthy (saturated) fats with healthy fats (monounsaturated and polyunsaturated).
“This means becoming a food label reader,” says Dr. Cho. “It’s important to limit your saturated fat intake. There should be no more than 2 grams of fat per serving and it should account for less than 7% of your daily calorie intake.”
Saturated fats are most often found in palm oil and coconut oil, along with animal products like beef, pork, chicken skin, hot dogs and regular cheese.
2. Increase your consumption of dietary fiber
“Ideally, you should be getting 25 to 35 grams of fiber a day,” says Dr. Cho. “Fiber binds to cholesterol and eliminates it from your body.”
To increase your fiber intake, eat more whole grains, legumes like beans and lentils, vegetables and fruits. You should be getting a good mix of both soluble fibers, which are more beneficial for cholesterol, and insoluble fibers, which are better for your gut health.
Lower cholesterol isn’t the only benefit of getting enough fiber. Other benefits include reducing your risk of diseases, preventing constipation and keeping you full longer.
3. Is flax helpful?
Flax, a soluble fiber, contains a plant omega-3 fatty acid called alpha-linolenic acid. Flax is a source of high-quality protein and potassium and contains lignans, which are phytoestrogen and antioxidants. Lignans help fight diseases like cancer and cardiovascular disease.
“Eat your flax,” says Dr. Cho. “Don’t take it in pill or oil form since these versions lack fiber, lignans and protein.”
When you eat flaxseed, make sure you grind the seeds to get the most benefit and put it in the refrigerator as soon as you grind it. The whole flax can be stored at room temperature for one year, but once it’s in a grounded form, it goes bad – so grind a little bit at a time.
“Aim for 2 to 3 tablespoons of ground flaxseed a day,” she says. “Try putting it in your food, such as cereal, yogurt and salad.”
4. What happens if I incorporated dietary changes and my cholesterol is still not within recommended ranges?
If you’ve made some dietary changes and you still haven’t seen results, try incorporating phytosterol into your diet. Phytosterol is similar to the body’s cholesterol and can block cholesterol from being absorbed into your body.
“Phytosterol can lower your cholesterol by 10% and your LDL (bad cholesterol) by 14%,” she says. “Aim to get about 2 grams of phytosterol a day. Some common food and dietary supplements include high sterol or stanol esters — be sure to read the labels.”
5. Can I eat fish?
Oily fish like salmon, tuna, sardines, mackerel and herring are best. Dr. Cho recommends aiming for 2 servings per week.
“You can supplement with fish oil, but be careful because very high doses of pure fish oil can lower your triglyceride levels (another type of fat in your blood) and increase your good cholesterol,” she says. “It doesn’t lower your LDL, though. Be sure to read your fish oil supplement label.”
When reading the label of your fish oil bottle, look out for the EPA plus DHA in each serving since those are the effective ingredients. For example, if your fish oil says 1000 mg of fish oil but only contains 300 mg of EPA and DHA, know that you’re taking 700 mg of unnecessary fish blubber. Make sure you’re choosing fish oil with the highest amount of EPA plus DHA in each pill.
6. Can I use vitamins to lower my cholesterol?
The only vitamin that really lowers cholesterol is red yeast rice at 1200 mg twice a day, according to Dr. Cho.
“The problem with red yeast rice is that it contains the same chemical compound as lovastatin, which means you would need to have your liver function monitored if you take it,” she says. “The Food and Drug Administration hasn’t approved this supplement for medical use, so talk to your doctor before considering it.”
All in all, you can lower your cholesterol naturally. Diet should be the cornerstone of therapy and pills are a supplement, not a substitute, for a good diet. Always talk to your doctor before taking any new supplements.