High cholesterol is prevalent in the Canadian population: Nearly half of people aged 40 to 59 are affected – and for some, the first warning sign will be a heart attack or stroke. For others, a test indicating high blood cholesterol may be the first signal that it’s time to take control over the situation.
Cholesterol is fat that is found in the bloodstream, and there are a few different types of it. Your doctor will be concerned if your blood test has shown high levels of low-density lipoprotein, or LDL, cholesterol. It’s often referred to as “bad” cholesterol because it can form fatty deposits or “plaque” on your arteries, which causes them to harden and narrow thereby blocking blood flow to the heart and brain – which in turn can lead to a heart attack or stroke.
Whether you’ve already had a cardiovascular event – or you’re just determined to take action to manage your LDL, there’s plenty of reason to be optimistic. Committing to positive lifestyle changes can lower your levels of LDL cholesterol. Here are a few items that you should consider for your management plan. While it’s never enjoyable receiving bad news from a doctor, it can also serve as a wakeup call – and an opportunity to make some changes before it’s too late.
Talk to your doctor
The first step you should take is talking to your doctor about your treatment plan for high cholesterol. Your doctor can help you determine whether you’re succeeding at reducing your cholesterol-related risk through lifestyle changes (see below), and may also recommend other ways to manage the condition, which can work in tandem with lifestyle changes.
If you smoke, quit
This is easier said than done, of course. But if you’ve been meaning to kick the habit and haven’t succeeded yet, consider this motivation: Quitting smoking has been shown to increase levels of high-density lipoprotein, or HDL, which is known as the “good” cholesterol.
Higher levels of HDL can actually be beneficial, because this type of cholesterol helps your body clear away LDL.
Some studies have shown that exercise helps raise HDL levels — in other words, being more active could be a way to increase your good cholesterol.
Another motivation for being more active? Being overweight increases your LDL levels.
Limit certain foods in your diet
For decades, doctors have advised patients to minimize their intake of fatty, animal-based foods, especially fatty cuts of meat and heavier dairy products, such as cream and butter.
However, moderation is always wise and there’s more to a good diet than just limiting your fat intake. Recent research has emphasized balance. Many experts would agree that a healthy diet incorporates moderate amounts of foods that are high in fat — especially ones that contain Omega 3 and other “good fats,” such as fish and olive oil.
Find more room for fibre
For decades, we’ve known that people can decrease their LDL levels by adopting a diet rich in dietary fibre. Fibre attaches to cholesterol, which helps clear it from your body. Foods that are high in fibre include whole-grain pasta and brown rice, legumes, fruits and vegetables, and nuts and seeds.
In Canada, food products can be labelled “source of fibre,” “high source of fibre,” or “very high source of fibre” if they contain 2, 4 or 6 grams of dietary fibre, respectively.
As a general rule, if you prepare more meals at home – as opposed to eating out at restaurants – this can help you balance the levels of cholesterol in your diet.