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The Keys to Conquering Cholesterol

Do's and Don'ts for a Healthy Heart

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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.
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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.

Member Comments

  • I was going to say the same thing. The amount of cholesterol you eat has nothing to do with your cholesterol level in the blood... the newest and best research shows!
    But the amount of carbs, especially sugar carbs and/or bad fats do. No canola oil.
    Coconut oil, Olive oil, grapeseed oil,,,,, are wonderful!! and animal fat is not bad ......
    yup, the article needs updated for sure. - 4/19/2016 10:52:51 AM
  • JMB369
    SPARK PEOPLE MANAGERS! This article contains OUTDATED INFORMATION. I have always recommended SP to my friends as a source of good information on nutrition and exercise. But you can't keep recycling the same old aetickes. Research continues and sometimes lead to radical changes in the conclusions. Eggs are okay! Meat fat from organic grass fed animals is okay. Canola oil is not okay. Grains and beans are NOT okay for everyone. Sugar and artificial sweeteners are bigger culprits than healthy fats. Sufficient high quality sleep may be more important to our health than diet and exercise. Please keep us current! - 3/19/2016 7:58:21 AM
  • DO get some better family genes. What is wrong with you anyway? - 1/10/2016 10:57:23 PM
  • My mother cooked bacon or pork sausage and eggs (cooked in bacon or sausage grease) for breakfast almost every day, and saved the bacon grease for cooking things like fried chicken and making gravy; she and my father lived to be 95, and were healthy along the way. They grew up in the Depression era on farms, and so were used to eating foods that were close to the source; unprocessed in other words.

    My brother-in-law had such high cholesterol that his doctor wanted to put him on a cholesterol-lower
    ing drug. My sister, who has a lot of knowledge of nutrition, had him start taking psyllium root powder instead, and his numbers went down enough that the doctor said he didn't need the drug.

    Keep your food close to the source: remember the saying that too many cooks spoil the broth. Grow a garden if you can. Get a lot of exercise. And don't worry so much about avoiding fat. - 12/2/2015 11:33:08 AM
  • Cholesterol is ESSENTIAL for brain health and hormone function. 'Bad' HDL cholesterol is not caused by dietary cholesterol, but actually a result of high insulin response in those with a high sugar/carbohydrat
    e diet (that includes whole grains!). Not only do healthy fats like olive, coconut and avocado oil NOT make you fat, they can actually help you lose weight by easing the transition away from sugary foods in order to lower blood sugar levels and inflammation, as well as promote satiety. Canola, and other vegetable oils have been proven to be less healthy due to their exposure to pesticides and their tendency to go rancid before they've even made it to the supermarket.
    Very disappointed in some of the outdated nutrition information given out here sometimes... - 11/30/2015 4:13:01 PM
  • MAMAMASON 64 my mother had incredible results but cooking oatmeal muffins bought her cholesterol levels way down - 11/26/2015 2:43:20 AM
  • It is widely known now that dietary cholesterol is not the problem, it is carbs, ie sugars that are the problem. - 11/26/2015 2:39:43 AM
  • Dietary cholesterol and dietary fat do not raise the cholesterol levels. This was affirmed with a publication 1-2 months ago, and finally recognized by the USDA. Dietary processed carbohydrates have been shown to raise average blood sugar, triglycerides, and cholesterol. Dietary sugar is toxic. A diet centered around whole foods: ( did it grow that way, get picked that way, get fished that way, or come from the butcher that way, and by the way, if animal protein, is it 100% grass fed and finished?), is most likely the better way to go. - 11/25/2015 11:10:15 AM
    Having just survived a heart attack, I would advise anyone reading this article to consult their cardiologist or physician for suggested amounts of cholesterol, sodium, etc to include in your diet. I would also not agree with everyone who posted here who says that dietary cholesterol may not be so bad. While that may be true for some people, those most at risk for heart attacks need to be aware of everything they can do to avoid a heart attack, and limiting dietary cholesterol is one of them. Knowledge is power here folks, and though it sounds nice to hear encouragement that it's fine to go crazy and eat all the fats you want, that's simply not true, and not good for our hearts or our waistlines. - 10/26/2015 6:40:15 PM
  • My cholesterol has always been normal. I think I must've lost my weight before having to worry about that. - 10/5/2015 1:06:56 PM
  • I had high cholesterol (hello genetics and horrific lifestyle choices), and I am allergic to all cholesterol lowering medications. Faced with zero other options, I truly embarked on the train to wellness. Prior to this, I had lost some weight, tweaked my diet some, and went to yoga three times a week. Popping a statin was the primary way I brought my cholesterol down and kept all my numbers in line. Realization finally hit that I will forever be the only way numbers to keep my numbers in line. Reeducation on diet was clutch...I am not a vegetarian, but I eat so much fish, chicken, and turkey that I swear I might grow feathers, cluck, and breathe through gills. Adding fiber was key, especially the water soluble kinds...oatmeal (sometimes in the form of Cheerios), and ground milled flaxseeds are staples. Lastly, exercise has become significantly different. Heart pounding cardio (I have fake knees and am mindful of impact) and strength training are regularly part of my workouts. One day I just decided no more excuses, bad attitude, nor ignorance on the subject matter...I haven't looked back, nor am I what I once was. I do not remotely look or feel like the same person, and my "numbers" (excluding BMI, still working on that one) are terrific. It didn't happen overnight, yet this will be how I live for the rest of my life. - 9/26/2015 7:15:58 AM
  • I understand these are all good suggestions but what does salt have to do with lowering cholesterol? - 9/25/2015 10:19:28 PM
  • I was obese all of my life. Now all of my lipids are in the perfect range by following a low carb (not no carb) diet and lifestyle. I feel so much better, especially if I avoid wheat. - 9/25/2015 11:20:41 AM
  • "As recently as 2010, US dietary guidelines described cholesterol-rich foods as "foods and food components to reduce."1 They advised people to eat less than 300 milligrams (mg) per day, despite mounting evidence that dietary cholesterol has very little to do with cholesterol levels in your body.

    Now, the Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee (DGAC) has done a complete about-face. They are finally acknowledging what the science shows, which is that "cholesterol is not considered a nutrient of concern for overconsumption."

    This latter statement, which came from a DGAC meeting, is expected to change the books, so to speak, when it comes to dietary cholesterol recommendations in the soon-to-be-releas
    ed 2015 Dietary Guidelines for Americans".

    com/nbrbxyd - 9/25/2015 11:15:29 AM
  • CLAY10237
    Yup. This article needs some crucial updating. Apparently Spark management isn't reading comments.
    I am genetically predisposed to very high cholesterol. Started taking statins in my early 40s when I weighed 120. Having taken different ones over the years but, because my numbers won't go down as far the doctor wants, I was put on Lipitor, again. It does a great job bringing blood levels down. BUT, at 66, the side effects (muscle pain) were nearly totally immobilizing . Stopped taking it, within 3 days I felt 100% better. I'm thinking I not taking anymore statins, ever.
    For me, the best cholesterol lowering strategy is consistent exercise, attention to my diet and a doctor that understands the dynamics of cholesterol, LDL, HDL, statins, and genetics.
    Good luck to us. - 8/27/2015 11:30:56 PM

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