DEAR DOCTOR K: My cholesterol has always been fine, but recently it’s started to rise, though not high enough for medication. What do I need to do?
DEAR READER: There are several ways you can lower your cholesterol besides taking medicine. They involve cholesterol-friendly lifestyle changes: dietary modifications and regular exercise.
Start with your diet. First, let’s consider fats. The types of fat you eat are as important as the amounts you eat. Most animal and dairy fats are full of unhealthy saturated fats, which raise cholesterol levels.
In fact, consuming foods with saturated fat will raise your blood levels of cholesterol more than consuming foods high in cholesterol itself (interestingly, cholesterol is also a type of fat).
Saturated fats are found mostly in animal products, such as meat, milk and eggs. A few vegetable oils, such as palm oil and coconut oil also contain saturated fats.
Trans fats are even worse and should be avoided completely. Trans fats can be found in hard (stick) margarines and processed cakes, biscuits, cookies and a range of other products.
On the other hand, most vegetable fats (oils) are made up of unsaturated (polyunsaturated and monounsaturated) fats that are healthy for your heart. You can find these healthier fats in fish as well as nuts, seeds, vegetables and most vegetable oils.
Two more dietary changes can also help. First, increase your intake of soluble dietary fiber. Oat bran, barley, nuts, seeds, beans and lentils are all good sources. Second, increase your consumption of plant sterols and stanols. These naturally occurring plant compounds limit the amount of cholesterol your body can absorb.
The other key lifestyle change is regular exercise, which improves cholesterol levels and protects against cardiovascular disease. It also raises HDL (good) cholesterol.
Aim for at least 30 minutes of moderate-intensity physical activity on most days of the week.