Of all the numbers on a routine blood work report, high LDL cholesterol is all too common—and particularly concerning. “Over time, high levels of LDL cholesterol and triglycerides [a type of fat in the blood], with low levels of healthy HDL cholesterol, cause plaque to build up inside of our arteries,” says Dr. Danielle Kelvas, a Tennessee-based physician. “This can completely block the coronary arteries that feed the heart and cause heart attacks.” There are easy steps you can take to keep your cholesterol levels in a healthy range. These are the everyday habits you should stop doing to prevent high cholesterol, according to experts. Read on to find out more—and to ensure your health and the health of others, don’t miss these Sure Signs You’ve Already Had COVID.
You can lose a lot of weight on keto, but its concentration on fatty, high-cholesterol foods may put your heart at risk. “Many people follow a diet not realizing that this insidiously raises their cholesterol levels,” says Kelvas. “I frequently see patients switch to ketogenic diets, but they eat enormous amounts of fatty red meat, cheese, and eggs. All of these foods contain high levels of cholesterol. Be sure to focus more on fish and lean meats like turkey and chicken. I also see vegetarians who reach for high-fat fried foods such as chips, and cholesterol-dense food such as pizza and cheese.”
“Eating highly processed foods, foods with trans fats, and a lot of animal products and processed meats increase bad LDL cholesterol levels,” says Dana Ellis Hunnes, PhD, MPH, RD, a senior dietitian at UCLA Medical Center and author of the book Recipe for Survival. “Ultra-processed foods are often high in calories and fats, and low in fiber and nutrients. This combination can raise cholesterol levels and triglycerides. It also increases fat deposition in the liver, which can increase cholesterol levels.” Avoiding trans fat, and limiting saturated fat and high-cholesterol foods while emphasizing whole foods like fruits and vegetables is the best course for your heart, cholesterol numbers and overall health.
“Weight cycling, also known as yo-yo dieting, is not good for health, and we’ve known this for decades, despite the fact that ‘dieting’ is still encouraged as a method for weight loss,” says Rachel Fine, RDN, a registered dietitian nutritionist in New York. “Specifically, weight cycling and chronic dieting have been associated with lower HDL (the “good” cholesterol) and higher LDL (“bad” cholesterol). It should be considered that any extreme methods to lose weight might be more detrimental for cholesterol than actually staying at a weight that is higher, and perhaps more comfortable, for one’s body.”
“Although fats have long been the culprit for high cholesterol numbers, it is now clear that high glucose levels are a major contributor to high cholesterol,” says Jakob Roze, CSCS, a certified strength and conditioning specialist in New York City. “Consuming excess sugars puts an individual at the greatest risk for high blood sugar levels. When blood glucose levels are high for a long period of time, the hormone called insulin which clears glucose from the blood becomes resistant to clearing this excess sugar. Insulin resistance causes numerous metabolic changes, one of the most significant being raising LDL cholesterol and hardening artery walls.”
“The American Heart Association recommends carving out either 150 minutes of moderate exercise or 75 minutes of more intense exercise each week, or a combination of both,” says Dr. Mahmud Kara, an Ohio-based functional medicine physician. “Exercise helps with delivery of oxygen to our vital organs as well as blood flowing and improved circulation. Both of these factors can strengthen your heart health and lower your risk for high cholesterol.”
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“Smoking, no matter what form, can be a risk factor for developing heart disease and other heart-related health problems,” says Kara. “This is because smoking can increase plaque, narrow our blood vessels which limits proper blood flow, and can cause clot blockages. Avoiding smoking, whether it be cigarettes, vapes, or other forms, is an effective way to improve your heart health.”
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“This doesn’t get talked about much, but chronic stress has been associated with high cholesterol, high LDL in particular,” says Jessica Cording, RD, MS, CDN, a registered dietitian in New York City. Stress taxes the immune system, which can negatively affect the entire body. To reduce stress, exercise regularly, try relaxation exercises like meditation and mindfulness, make time for things you enjoy, and if you still can’t chill out, talk with your doctor.
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“Rather than waiting until your 50s or 60s to find out you have high blood pressure, high cholesterol, or even checking for diabetes, having a regular screening in your early 20s or 30s to know your numbers and then being educated on preventative measures, like exercise and diet, could make a world of difference for your future health outcomes,” says Kara.
“I recommend patients look into the DASH and Mediterranean diets, as these are recommended by the American Heart Association for high blood pressure and high cholesterol, and they are fairly well-rounded,” says Dr. Samantha Cooper, a family medicine physician in Dallas, Texas. “I also recommend people work on incorporating 150 minutes a week of exercise, including cardio and weight training. Working toward losing about 10% of your body weight greatly impacts your overall health and cholesterol, blood sugar, and blood pressure numbers.” Start slow, if you need to, and be consistent—a good benchmark is to lose that amount of weight in four to six months.
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