High cholesterol can become a problem at almost any age, but our risk for developing it increases as we get older. For women, high cholesterol can especially become a problem after menopause. Luckily, there are some easy ways to prevent high cholesterol or help lower it right in your kitchen. Celebrate National Nutrition Month in March by working to lower your cholesterol with these quick tips.
First, what is cholesterol?
Cholesterol is found in all your body’s cells. Your body needs cholesterol to function, but having too much of it in your blood can cause buildup in your arteries or even block them completely. This can lead to heart disease, heart attack and stroke, which older adults are also more at risk of developing. More than 42 million Americans over age 60 have at least one form of cardiovascular disease.
There are two types of cholesterol, LDL (“bad” cholesterol) and HDL (“good” cholesterol). LDL cholesterol comes from eating saturated fat and can clog your arteries. On the other hand, having higher levels of HDL cholesterol can lower your risk for heart disease and stroke. So, what can you eat to lower your bad cholesterol and increase the good stuff?
The good guys: Foods that help your cholesterol levels
• Fiber: Foods high in fiber prevent your digestive tract from absorbing cholesterol. Try whole-grain oatmeal and oat bran. Fruits like apples, bananas, oranges and prunes are good sources of fiber. Add fiber-rich foods like kidney beans, lentils, chickpeas and lima beans to your diet. Fiber supplements can be a good option, too.
• Fruits and Vegetables: Fruits and vegetables have compounds that help lower your cholesterol levels and keep daily saturated fat intake low. Many of them also contain fiber for added benefits. Bonus: Avocado is a “heart-healthy” fat that is good to eat in moderation.
• Fish: Fish doesn’t lower your cholesterol levels, but it is a good source of healthy cholesterol. Fish are rich in nutrients and protect your heart from blood clots and inflammation — which can reduce your risk for heart attack. These fish are also a good source of omega-3 fatty acids: salmon, tuna and mackerel.
The bad guys: Foods to stay away from
• Salt: Limiting your sodium (salt) intake will help lower your blood pressure and reduce your risk for heart disease. Adults over 50 should stick to 2,300 milligrams (1 teaspoon) or less of salt per day. This includes salt that you add to your food and salt already included in your food. Try choosing low sodium or “no added salt” foods and seasonings.
• Fried and Processed Foods: Processed foods are high in saturated fats, sugars and salt. Try eating fresh foods like fruits and vegetables.
• Butter: Instead of butter, try using vegetable oils. Canola, sunflower and safflower are good replacements.
• Whole-Fat Dairy: Whole-fat dairy is high in cholesterol and saturated fats. Look for low-fat yogurt and cheese, 1-percent or skim milk and low-fat or fat-free frozen yogurt and ice cream.
• High Fat Meats: Look for lean meats such as beef sirloin or pork tenderloin. Eat portions less than 3 ounces.
• Eggs: According to research from the Harvard Medical School, one egg a day should be OK for most people. Eggs have dietary cholesterol, but are low in saturated fat. The problem with eggs occurs when you add oils, butter or cheese into them when you’re cooking. However, if you are at a high risk for diabetes or have heart disease, then you should limit yourself to three eggs per week. If you like eggs but don’t want the added cholesterol, try egg whites. Egg whites are cholesterol free.
Tips when shopping for food
• This seems like a given, but make sure to look at nutrition labels when shopping for food. The nutrition label will have all the information about how much fat, saturated fat, cholesterol, fiber, sugar and sodium is in the product.
• Shop around the perimeter of the store. This is where you usually find produce, lean meats, nuts and low-fat dairy.
• Always shop when you are full. You will be less likely to buy foods that are high in sugar and salt when you’re not hungry.
• When shopping for meat, meats labeled “prime” are higher in fat. Look for meats labeled “choice” or “select.”
What else can you do to help manage your cholesterol?
• Stay active: Get at least 30 minutes of exercise each day. Exercise will help circulate your bloodstream and improve your overall heath. You can walk, garden or hit the gym, anything that gets you moving!
• Stop smoking: Just like high cholesterol levels, smoking can clog and block your arteries. Smoking can increase your risk for heart disease or even a heart attack, too.
• Cholesterol-lowering drugs: If diet and exercise don’t help lower your cholesterol, there are medications that can help. Talk to your doctor to find out if these medications could be right for you.