Findings ways to reduce cholesterol

September is here again, and the National Cholesterol Education Month campaign is underway.  This is the perfect month for starting something new such as setting new healthy eating goals to keep cholesterol in check and hearts beating strong.

One step toward this goal is to achieve optimal LDL levels. 

LDL, or low-density lipoprotein, is known as the bad cholesterol because it can build up in the arteries and then lead to blockages.  These blockages narrow the arteries and reduce the oxygen supply to the heart.   Such blockages can lead to heart attacks and strokes.

If your cholesterol levels could use some tweaking, consider the following suggestions for getting back on track.

Make soluble fiber a priority. This fiber dissolves in water and forms a gel that helps to trap and remove bile acids from the body.  Bile acids are important for fat digestion and are made from cholesterol.  Current thinking is that as the bile is removed from the body, cholesterol is then needed to make more bile and cholesterol is then reduced. Aim for at least ten grams of soluble fiber each day.

Soluble fiber is found in oats, barley, flax, legumes, carrots, citrus fruits, apples, pears, and dried beans and peas, just to name a few.  Along with the fiber, include plenty of fluids to help the fiber do its work.  Add soluble fiber slowly.  This fiber can have a laxative effect if eaten in high amounts all at once.

Reduce saturated fat.  The type of fat increases LDL. The American Heart Association advises people to consume no more than seven percent of total calories as saturated fat.  For a 2000 calorie intake, that would be 16 grams or less.  A grilled cheese sandwich could easily rack up 10 grams of saturated fat. 

To reduce that saturated fat in your diet, choose only low or non-fat dairy products, soft tub margarines, and the lower fat cuts of meat such as loin and round cuts.  Better yet, substitute chicken and fish for some of the meat you prepare.  Or try soy crumbles, tempeh, and tofu.  Try for one or two meatless days each week.  (And pass on the donuts at the office.)

Substitute healthy oils for other sources of fat.  Extra virgin olive oil, canola oil, seeds and their oils, walnuts, almonds, and avocadoes are all healthy replacements for other fats. This only works well if the not-so-healthy fats are replaced by the oils and nuts instead of added to the diet.  Otherwise, you will also add extra calories to the day and could gain weight, which is counterproductive to cholesterol control.

Get rid of added trans fats.  Totally.  Get this down to zero.  Foods to avoid include those with partially hydrogenated fat in the ingredient label.  Read those labels.  Examples of such foods are fried foods, baked items, buttery crackers, processed savory snacks, and desserts, especially store-bought varieties.

Exercise for 30 minutes most days of the week.  This will help increase the good cholesterol HDL, decrease weight (which helps normalize cholesterol, too), and improve health overall.  Start slowly and work up to your goal.  If you are out of shape, a visit to your doctor for the ok is necessary.

Reduce sugar consumption.   I think we all eat more sugar than we need.  High sugar foods take the place of healthier options and add few nutrients.  

Bake and roast more, fry less.  This will decrease calories, fat, and mess in the kitchen.  Try broth, wine or water for softening onions, celery, carrots, and the like.

While visiting with the doctor, discuss using products that contain plant sterols and stanols. These plant compounds are similar in form to cholesterol and can block the absorption of it.  Plant stanols and sterols are found in certain brands of margarines, milk, yogurt, juices, and salad dressings. 

If your doctor suggests drugs to help lower cholesterol, remember that the drugs will work best with continued dietary changes and regular exercise.

Both the Cleveland Clinic and the Mayo Clinic offer helpful information about the current cholesterol guidelines.