How to Improve Your Cholesterol: The Pills And Skills Method.
Are you interested in how to improve your cholesterol? Maybe you have a family history of heart disease and you want to act now on habit change to avoid the cycle repeating. Have you or a loved one been recently diagnosed with “High Cholesterol?” Feeling a little overwhelmed with fear of what could happen if you don’t get it under control?
Have you been given instructions from you doctor of things you can do, but feel overwhelmed with how to implement them? Maybe you have started a new cholesterol lowering medication and would like to do whatever you can to get off of that medicine as soon as possible.
As a Certified Health Coach, I am here to help bridge the information and education gap between you and your doctor.
I hope that once you have read this article you will feel a little more equipped on how you can use what I call the “Pills and Skills” method. This method will take the “pills” and directives you’ve been given by your doctor, then pair that with practical “skills” you can do to work alongside your doctor. Hopefully you will make enough positive change in your blood work that you can possibly be in normal range and not need medications any longer! Wouldn’t that be great?
First of all, let me preface this by saying, your doctor’s orders will always trump what information I offer. The information I am offering is for general public, and may not always be the best option for your specific health needs. Please make sure to check with your doctor prior to making changes to your diet or fitness plan. Also, DO NOT stop taking medications without your doctor’s prior approval. These tips I offer are to work alongside your doctor’s orders, not to replace them.
Now let’s get started.
1. Improve your nutrition by eating heart-healthy foods.
Limit your intake of SATURATED fats. These fats are primarily found in red meat, and full fat dairy products. Lowering your intake of Saturated fats, can reduce your LDL, also known as the “BAD” cholesterol. In a 2000 calorie per day diet, you would aim for 7-10% of total calories from saturated fats. That would be approx. 140-200 calories from saturated fat, or 16-22 grams of saturated fat per day.
A general rule of thumb would be first of all choosing the leanest cut of meat possible, and limiting red meat to maybe just once a week. When choosing dairy, choose the skim or low fat dairy, and preferably organic. If choosing yogurt, check the ingredient label for added sugars, High fructose corn syrup, artificial sweeteners, and artificial colors. You want to avoid those ingredients. Choose plain yogurt, and add fruit and berries to sweeten it if needed.
Abstain from any TRANS Fats. Trans fats are also known has hydrogenated or partially hyrdrogenated oils. Pro tip- check in the ingredient label for this. On the nutrition label it can say “0 trans fats”, because there is a minimum amount per serving required in order for it to have to be reported, so they don’t have to list it on the label. If it is listed in the ingredients, then it’s in there, and it can raise your cholesterol levels, in addition to many other harmful side effects related to your brain. Trans fats are commonly found in packaged foods, cakes, crackers, margarine, salad dressings, and fried foods.
Increase your intake of Omega-3 fatty acids. Omega 3 fatty acids can be an entire topic on their own. But to give a few benefits for the purpose of this article, they can cause a major reduction in triglycerides. They can reduce blood pressure levels in those with high blood pressure. They can raise the HDL, also known as the “GOOD” cholesterol. Omega 3s keep your blood platelets from clumping together, preventing blood clots. They keep arteries smooth and free from damage preventing plaque that can harden and restrict arteries. Lastly, Omega 3s reduce the production of some substances released during your body’s inflammatory response, therefore reducing inflammation. Omega 3s can be found in salmon, mackerel, herring, walnuts, and flaxseed, as well as supplements.
Eat soluble fiber. Soluble fiber can reduce the absorption of cholesterol in your bloodstream. You can find soluble fiber in foods like oatmeal and oat bran, apples, citrus fruits, strawberries, beans, peas, lentils, barley, and rice bran.
2. Increase your exercise. Exercise is crucial in tapping into your body’s own “internal pharmacy” called the endothelium. When you exercise, your endothelium opens and releases nitric oxide, which relaxes the vessels and keeps them flexible, allowing them to dilate, boosting blood flow, and helping to control blood pressure. Nitric oxide also has anti-inflammatory effects and helps prevent platelets and white blood cells from adhering to the lining of blood vessels, thus reducing the risk of plaque development.
How much exercise? With your doctor’s approval, gradually build up to 25 minutes of brisk activity 6 days a week. A few tips to help with this might be to get an activity tracker like a Fit bit and aim for 10,000 steps a day. Keep active throughout the day, add in a new sport or hobby that keeps you moving, and bring along a friend or workout buddy for support and accountability. Hire a trainer if you can’t seem to stick with it on your own.
3. Quit smoking. This will quickly and directly impact by improving your HDL cholesterol level. According to the Mayo clinic:
Within 20 minutes of quitting, your blood pressure and heart rate recover from the cigarette induced spike.
Within 3 months of quitting, your blood circulation and lung function begin to improve.
Within a year of quitting, your risk of heart disease is half that of a smoker!
4. Lose excess weight from your waist. This seems so obvious, yet it’s super challenging for most of us. It’s easy for most to gain weight, but super hard to lose it.
Women’s waist should be less than their hips, and less than 35 inches. Men’s waist should be equal to or less than their hips, and less than 40 inches.
You can measure your waist on your own with a measuring tape around your torso about 1 inch above your navel.
There are several methods for effective weight loss, but overall, just eat real foods. One of my favorite methods that teaches this well is Whole 30. Whole 30 can be over complicated for some though.
I also really like the freedom and simplicity of “Traffic Light Eating System” we teach at LEANWell.
The traffic light system is a great way to determine which foods are the best foods that can be eaten daily like green light and yellow light foods, and which ones , red light foods, should only be eaten once in a while or on special occasion.
Both styles of eating teach the basics of avoiding the processed, precooked, fast food type of meals. Pursue whole foods, and high quality ingredients for your body and it will respond beautifully!
If you are concerned about calories, start tracking in apps like myfitnesspal.com. In order to lose a pound a week, you need a caloric deficit of 500 calories per day. That means the total calories you burn each day needs to be greater than the total calories you eat by at least 500 a day to lose a pound a week. For some this works right away, for others there may be more going on with your health and you may need further testing to see if there are other factors to consider.
5. Limit alcohol. For healthy adults, that means up to one drink a day for women of all ages and men older than age 65, and up to two drinks a day for men age 65 and younger. This doesn’t mean you have to drink every day. If you can avoid it all together then great! One of the biggest issues that goes along with alcohol is the loss of inhibitions, which can lead to lack of discipline, therefore leading to binge eating on junk food and overeating when you wouldn’t otherwise have done that.
Now, this is just a simple list of things you can do to work alongside your doctor to achieve your ultimate goal of improving your cholesterol.
Results will vary among individuals because most of your cholesterol (approx. 80%) is produced by your own body through your liver. Only about 20% comes from the foods you eat.
It’s worth noting, this list has many other benefits and can lead to an overall improvement in health and well-being. Even if you don’t see changes in your cholesterol right away, keep at it, because you will notice a difference in your total health.
In closing, please continue your prescribed medications if your doctor says you need them. But, also research on your own, ask questions of your doctor, and pursue healthy habits. Use the “pills and skills” method by doing your part alongside your doctor to help your body perform the way it was naturally designed to.