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Published on May 22, 2017

five spelled out in vegetables

Five Top Diet Tips for Lowering Cholesterol

When you have high cholesterol, changes to your diet and exercise habits are always a good idea.

“You might have a genetic disposition to high cholesterol, but changes to your diet and lifestyle could still improve your numbers,” says Mary Beth Russell, Registered Dietitian at the Avera Heart Hospital.

If the changes you’ve made to date haven’t made a difference, it might be that you haven’t made the right changes, Russell says. For example, perhaps you’ve reduced your intake of saturated fat, but you haven’t cut down on sugar or simple starches – like white bread or pasta.

High blood cholesterol is not a direct correlation to future heart disease, but it does increase your risk.

Considering All Risk Factors

Not everyone will be able to impact their cholesterol numbers enough through diet and exercise alone. If you have high cholesterol plus other risk factors, your doctor might prescribe a statin medication, said Timothy Mok, MD, Avera Medical Group family practice physician at Marshall, Minn., who consults the ASCVD (atherosclerotic cardiovascular disease) Risk Estimator provided by the American College of Cardiology and American Heart Association.

The online risk estimator takes several factors into consideration including gender, age, race, HDL, total cholesterol, blood pressure, diabetes and smoking. The estimator will provide a 10-year and lifetime risk percentile for heart attack and stroke, and recommend whether or not statins are advised.

“Talk with your doctor about your cholesterol numbers and risk for heart disease. Ultimately, you cannot control some risk factors, such as your gender, age or race. But you can control what you eat, how much you exercise and whether or not you choose to smoke. Make the changes you can and you will still impact your heart health for the better,” Mok added.

For anyone who is looking to improve their heart health and/or maintain a healthy weight, Russell gives these top five tips:

Eat a healthy breakfast, every day

Include different nutritious choices such as an egg and whole wheat toast, oatmeal, or yogurt and granola. Eat fruit for breakfast instead of juice. If you do have juice, limit it to 6 ounces.

Eat fish at least twice a week

Top fish choices are salmon, tuna and tilapia. If you don’t like fish, try new types of fish or different cooking methods. It’s always better to get fish oil from fish itself rather than supplements.

Eat five servings of fruits and vegetables every day

Eat fruit for breakfast, a fruit and vegetable for lunch, and two vegetable servings or a vegetable and fruit for supper. “Fruits and vegetables deliver fiber, nutrients, low-calorie content and lots of flavor and variety,” Russell said. “If you eat five servings a day, it will help fill you up and you will eat less of other foods.” Look for choices with deep color: berries, spinach, kale or broccoli. These are high in antioxidants, which can decrease inflammation. Tea and dark chocolate are also high in antioxidants.

Choose high quality whole grain

Look for whole grain or whole wheat as the first ingredient. “It should say whole wheat, not bleached or enriched wheat flour,” Russell said. “It should say 100 percent whole grain, rather than ‘made with whole grain.’”

The goal is to reduce your intake of white processed starches that increase your triglycerides, lower HDL (helpful cholesterol) and increase LDL (lousy cholesterol). Watching sugars and processed carbohydrates is equally as important as watching your fat intake.

Choose healthy fats

Olive or canola oil are good choices, Russell said. Natural sources are better than man-made shortening or margarine. “I tell my patients to use a small amount of butter instead.” Use oil instead whenever you can. For example, brush a grilled sandwich with olive oil instead of buttering the bread.

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