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The Keys to Conquering Cholesterol

Heart disease is a scary thing. In the face of dire risk factor statistics and horror stories about cholesterol, you can easily get rattled. You might feel overwhelmed by the whole cholesterol question, and feel like you face uninformed life and death decisions every time you sit down at the table.

But reducing your risk of heart disease is not an impossible task. All it takes is a few simple adjustments.

Your cholesterol level is determined by several factors, including your genetic makeup, your diet, and certain lifestyle choices. You can’t do anything about genes passed down from Grandpa Charlie, but you can change your future with a few new, heart-friendly lifestyle choices.

The list below contains several strategies to help you develop cholesterol-smart, heart-healthy habits. These nutritional do’s and don’ts won’t have you feeling deprived, or require you to train for a marathon. They will, however, make your heart very happy. And a happy heart has nothing to be afraid of.

DO watch your cholesterol intake. Dietary cholesterol (the cholesterol you eat) may raise blood cholesterol levels. Limit dietary cholesterol to 300 milligrams a day.

DO limit the fat in your diet. A diet rich in fat encourages weight gain and may lead to elevated blood cholesterol levels.

DON’T eliminate all fat from your diet. You need some fat in your diet for good health. Fat adds pleasure to your meal and makes you feel satisfied after the meal. Fat also gives flavor, texture, and moisture to food.

DO choose olive oil and canola oil for salad dressing, sautéing vegetables, cooking and baking. They are rich in monounsaturated fat, the heart healthy fat.

DON’T forego seeds and nuts, like almonds, walnuts, pecans, and peanuts. These are high in the healthy monounsaturated fats. A small handful 3-5 times a week can help prevent heart disease and increase your HDL (high density lipoprotein, the good cholesterol) levels.

DO find more soluble fiber. Soluble fiber may help lower blood cholesterol levels. It is found in oats, rice, bran, barley, dried peas and beans, and certain fruits like prunes and apples.

DON’T overlook complex carbohydrates. Complex carbs are rich in fiber, vitamins and minerals. Choose more whole grain breads and cereals, pasta, brown rice, and dried beans and peas. Enjoy fruits and vegetables more often.

DON’T overindulge in salt. High blood pressure is associated with a diet high in sodium. Check labels carefully and watch the amount of salt you use in cooking and at the table.

DO cut back on trans fatty acids. Trans fatty acids are formed during the process of hydrogenation, which makes a fat more saturated and extends its shelf life. Avoid the term "partially hydrogenated vegetable oil" on the ingredient list of margarines, as well as packaged foods, cookies and crackers.

DON’T forget to go fishing. Fish rich in Omega-3 fatty acids, is good for cholesterol. It is recommended to eat at least 6-8 ounces of baked or broiled fish each week. Salmon, mackerel, tuna, and halibut are excellent sources.


DON’T smoke. Smoking is a major risk factor for heart disease. It decreases your HDL (high density lipoprotein, the good cholesterol) levels.

DO get moving. Physical activity is an important part of a heart-healthy routine. It can also help you control your weight and lower your blood pressure. Shoot for at least 30 minutes of activity every day.

DO lose weight, if you are overweight. People who maintain a healthful weight (a BMI of 18-24) are not only less likely to develop heart disease, but also high blood pressure and diabetes. Lose unwanted pounds by eating fewer calories and increasing your physical activity on a regular basis.

DON’T forget to know your numbers. Get your blood cholesterol levels checked yearly.

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Member Comments

Think this article needs an update. Always want updated info Report
Good article and great tips! Report
I am thankful my cholesterol numbers have been good but it is now time to again get those numbers checked. Report
I have been very blessed to be able to bring my numbers(quite high) down over the years naturally. Would not go on meds. Tried a little, it came down a little. Kept trying harder till really have changed way I eat as well as exercise and losing weight. Last check was only six over the lowest number and still was told to get on meds. My HDL was 59 and tri was 108. Seriously!!!!? I don't need the side effects or damage somewhere else in my body due to it! Report
thanks Report
Great ideas to think about Report
interesting article Report
Thanks for useful info! Report
Needs updating..... Report
Great article. Thank you! Report
Couple of things.

1) Responding to a comment below: statins are not evil and they absolutely help people with cardiovascular disease. Low-dose statins minimize side effects but do help lower LDL cholesterol (and slightly raise HDL, the good stuff). Not everyone should be on statins, only those for whom lifestyle changes aren't enough or people who have cardiovascular disease. Those people have a genetic makeup that causes the body to produce an imbalance of LDL to HDL, and statins help control that. There are legitimate medical reasons to take statins. If you go on a statin and your LDL values plummet, it's likely a) the statins help, and b) you'll have to keep taking them. Source: Mayo Clinic https://www.mayoc

2) Recent research shows genetics, not foods high in cholesterol, are responsible for high cholesterol. Your body makes more cholesterol than you can eat. Cutting cholesterol in your diet won't help lower LDL levels. Trans fats, on the other hand, are bad for you; you should avoid all hydrogenated fats. Source: Cleveland Clinic

3) The article lacks anything about triglycerides. Triglycerides contribute to atherosclerosis and inflammation which, in turn, raises the risk of cardiovascular disease (stroke, heart attack etc.). A normal triglyceride level is 150 or less. When calculating your overall cholesterol number, triglycerides contribute "1" for every "5" - for example, a triglyceride count of 150 counts as 30 cholesterol. Cutting back on simple carbs and processed foods like granulated sugar and white flour will reduce your triglyceride levels. Source: Mayo Clinic https://www.mayoc

4) One thing I'd like to see mentioned about fat is that you need to eat fats to get enough fat-soluble vitamins like Vitamins A, D, E and K. Your body cannot absorb those... Report
Working on it! Report
Days are getting nice and sunny so it means it time for long walks to help lose the weights and tone up my muscles. Report
Article is outdated Report
This article was written in 2005. There is plenty of new and correct info regarding cholesterol available. Whole eggs and bacon are back. Dietary cholesterol is no longer believed to affect cholesterol in the body. Statins are evil and do not help with coronary heart disease. I'm not picking on the RD that wrote it but it IS very old info. Report


About The Author

Becky Hand
Becky Hand
Becky is a registered and licensed dietitian with almost 20 years of experience. A certified health coach through the Cooper Institute with a master's degree in health education, she makes nutrition principles practical, easy-to-apply and fun. See all of Becky's articles.
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