The long-term presence of high cholesterol levels – of LDL more specifically – is known as hypercholesterolemia. This condition affects 95 million people in the US, posing serious health risks. Even young adults have elevated “bad” cholesterol levels, with the ones of “good” cholesterol (HDL) being increased.
Because the elevated levels of cholesterol fail to cause noticeable symptoms, most people discover these health problems accidentally or when it is too late (complications present). Regular blood tests can help you determine if your cholesterol level is within normal limits, helping you take the necessary countermeasures in case of hypercholesterolemia. (R)
Why worry about high cholesterol levels?
When the cholesterol level remains increased for a prolonged period of time, one is at risk of suffering from heart disease and other life-threatening complications, such as stroke. The good news is that one can lower cholesterol levels by changing the diet and increasing the current level of physical exercise. Basically, a healthy lifestyle is the key.
Cholesterol and its Purpose
Cholesterol is one of the substances that contribute to the formation of cell membranes. It is also involved in the formation of various metabolic products and hormones, including bile acid.
Atherosclerosis, a risk in case of hypercholesterolemia
In the case of hypercholesterolemia, cholesterol accumulates in the walls of the blood vessels, causing them to thicken. As the diameter of the respective vessel decreases, the blood flow to vital organs – especially the heart – is reduced. The cholesterol deposits calcify, leading to atherosclerosis and subsequent complications: heart attack, stroke or sudden cardiac death. (R)
Bad and good cholesterol
The “bad” LDL cholesterol is responsible for the changes associated with the atherosclerosis process. LDL cholesterol accumulates in the blood vessels, leading to calcification. Adequate treatment and lifestyle changes are meant to reduce the level of LDL within the body.
The “good” HDL cholesterol, on the other hand, has a protective effect. It offers excellent protection against the atherosclerosis process, gathering the “bad” LDL cholesterol from the tissues and taking it back to the liver (where it will be processed and excreted). A healthy person will have a high level of HDL. (R)
What are the optimal cholesterol levels?
When it comes to optimal cholesterol levels, one must take into account not only the pre-existing conditions but also various risk factors. These can include a family history of hypercholesterolemia, and surgical interventions for heart conditions (stents, bypasses, etc.). As for the pre-existent conditions that might affect cholesterol values, these might be diabetes, hypertension, kidney failure, heart attack, and stroke.
In people who have one or several of the above-mentioned conditions, the value of LDL should not exceed 70 mg/dL. On the other hand, if you are a healthy individual, without any medical history, the maximal allowed value is of 115 mg/dL. As for the value of HDL, a minimum of 40 mg/dL should be considered at all times. (R)
Lifestyle changes to lower cholesterol levels
A healthy lifestyle can be enough to bring down your cholesterol level, and improve your general well-being. The changes you will have to make regarding your diet, which should be more balanced, and your level of physical activity (a sedentary lifestyle does not affect only your cholesterol levels but also your health in general).
Dietary changes recommended for lowering cholesterol levels
The diet plays a significant role in lowering cholesterol levels, especially when it comes to extremely high values. You must follow a balanced diet, with healthy meals and a reduced percentage of animal fats. The main idea is to bring down your red meat consumption average, consuming more fish instead and plenty of fresh vegetables.
In preparing your meals, you have to pay attention to the types of fat you are using. For example, when it comes to actual cooking, you should stick with sunflower or rapeseed oil. For salads, on the other hand, olive oil remains one of the healthiest choices. (R)
To keep your cholesterol within healthy limits, moderation is the key. You can have cheat days, in which you will eat a roast or a piece of cake, but do not go overboard. Try to find simple dishes, full of flavor, so that you can eat healthily and also with pleasure.
Less meat is encouraged
Meat contains a high level of animal fat, which in turn will affect cholesterol levels. Animal fats are actually saturated fatty acids, with a direct impact on “bad” cholesterol. In general, you should consume meat once or twice per week, preferably with the main course. Attention, you are encouraged to consume less meat, not give it up altogether.
Fish, an excellent alternative to meat
Fish can be used to replace red meat. Either cooked in the oven or steamed, fish is rich in unsaturated omega-3 fatty acids, which are quite beneficial for the levels of “good” cholesterol. You can consume fish once or twice per week, opting for salmon, mackerel, tuna, herring or redfish.
The fatty acids contained in fish will also break down the “bad” cholesterol, reducing the risk of atherosclerosis. Pay attention to the type of fish you are consuming and, as for shellfish, this should be rarely consumed, as it is rich in unhealthy cholesterol.
Choosing the right oils for cooking
If you are used to using lard for cooking, this is not a healthy habit (as it increases cholesterol levels). You should replace these with vegetable oils, as they are rich in polyunsaturated and unsaturated fatty acids, which can bring down the levels of “bad” cholesterol.
Rapeseed oil can be used not only for cooking and roasting but it can be added to salads as well. It contains both omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids, reducing the level of bad cholesterol and increasing the one of HDL. Olive oil, as mentioned, is perfect for salad dressings. It is rich in monounsaturated fatty acids, being beneficial for general health.
In deciding on the oils you will use in the kitchen, you should remember that not all vegetable fats are healthy or good for your cholesterol. The list of oils to be avoided includes, among others, cocoa butter, coconut oil, and palm kernel oil.
Plenty of vegetables and fruits in moderation
A healthy diet is based on the daily consumption of fresh, seasonal vegetables and fruits. To bring down your cholesterol levels, you should eat plenty of vegetables every day. When it comes to fruits, these should be consumed in moderation, as they are also rich in sugar.
Both vegetables and fruits do not contain any cholesterol but they are rich in beneficial substances, such as vitamins, fiber and antioxidants. The antioxidants contained in various veggies & fruits include vitamin C, vitamin E, lycopene, beta-carotene and other phytochemicals. They are meant to protect against oxidative stress, which is caused by free radicals (it can affect among other things, the walls of the arteries).
Last, but not least, veggies and fruits are rich in fiber, contributing to a reduced intake of cholesterol and lowering the total amount of “bad” cholesterol within the body. Soluble fibers are particularly important, being often found in citrus fruits and berries.
Whole grains instead of white flour products
Include wholegrain products in your daily menu. Specifically, choose oats and barley over white flour products for better nutrition and health. Whole grain products offer rich fiber content, prolonging the feeling of fullness and lowering cholesterol. They also help prevent constipation. If you can avoid cereals altogether, that’s even better.
Whole grain products often contain soluble fiber, which absorbs and removes bile acid high in “bad” cholesterol. Other good sources of soluble fiber are legumes and apples. Aim for a daily intake of between 30 and 40 grams.
Many people end up with high cholesterol levels simply because they are unaware of the hidden fats they consume on a daily basis. Cold cuts, various types of sausages and red meat contain hidden fats, contributing to hypercholesterolemia.
The same goes for refined or processed products, including pizza and various sweets. Deep-fried foods can contain high quantities of animal fats, so you should stay away from them. In general, it is recommended to carefully check the label – and especially the nutritional info – of each food product before purchase. You are able to track your diet using the CareClinic app quite effectively as with other items we are list below through “daily check-ins” to your journal.
Physical exercise as a regular activity
If you want to have healthy cholesterol levels, it is not enough to follow a balanced diet. You must also be physically active, so as to avoid the risk of leading a sedentary lifestyle. The lack of physical exercise can actually increase the level of “bad” cholesterol, so you need to address this risk factor.
Opt for a sport or a physical activity that you enjoy, such as cycling, swimming, jogging or brisk walking. Practice your favorite activity three or four times per week, with a duration of at least half an hour. By choosing an activity you like, the long-term success will be guaranteed. (R)
Weight loss as a goal to be achieved
Obesity is one of the major health risks nowadays, often being associated with high levels of “bad” cholesterol. Regular physical activity, combined with a healthy diet, can help one lose weight faster and improve cholesterol values.
If no weight loss measures are taken, one is at risk of developing a metabolic syndrome. This means that the LDL levels are through the roof, while the HDL values are too low. The arteries can become narrowed and calcified, with the risk of abdominal fat, diabetes and heart disease. Weight loss is essential and it should be perceived as a goal to be achieved, in combined with lowering cholesterol levels. (R)
CareClinic, a health app to document your cholesterol levels
If you are interested in regularly documenting your cholesterol levels, you can trust CareClinic’s health app for such purposes. You can enter your cholesterol values on a regular basis, getting monthly reports that you can share with the doctor. These reports will offer a clear perspective on your health status, allowing the doctor to recommend potential lifestyle changes and medication to bring down cholesterol levels.
The health app can be used to record additional health measurements and various symptoms associated with hypercholesterolemia or co-existing conditions. It is free and simple to use, allowing you to set up medication reminders and also to record your weight loss progress, levels of physical activity, and so on. You can rely on it to record the treatment plan recommended for various conditions as well.