I've long said cholesterol isn’t the real culprit when it comes to heart health, inflammation is. Cholesterol is critical to every cell and system in your body—especially your immune system, metabolism, and brain.
Yet, that doesn’t mean you want to completely ignore your cholesterol levels. To get a truly accurate picture, you want to get one of the newer generation tests that measure both your overall cholesterol levels and your subtypes.
To keep your cholesterol levels in the healthy range and maintain healthy levels of inflammation, you want to follow these seven tips.
1. Eat an Anti-Inflammatory Diet
Many people think the best way to lower their cholesterol levels is to avoid cholesterol-laden foods like eggs and shrimp. But the truth is, there are worse enemies than cholesterol--like inflammation.
Instead, I recommend adopting the anti-inflammatory Pan-Asian Modified Mediterranean (PAMM) diet, which combines the best foods from the traditional Japanese and Mediterranean cultures, both known for their health and longevity.
With the PAMM diet, you can eat moderate amounts of saturated fats from eggs, avocado, and animal protein. Plus, you want to limit (or better yet eliminate) sugar, white flours, and other simple carbohydrates that can lead to inflammation. Instead, fill your diet with vegetables, legumes, fresh fruits, lean proteins, cold-water fish such as wild caught salmon, and olive oil.
Olive oil—in my opinion—is the secret sauce of the Mediterranean diet. Those that live in the Mediterranean basin and consume extra virgin olive oil on a daily basis are second only to the Okinawans in Japan (by just a few months) when it comes to worldwide longevity. The science is relatively simple. Olive oil is rich in polyphenols that support healthy cholesterol dynamics and reduce proinflammatory gene expression.
Eating the PAMM way is anti-inflammatory because it contributes to a healthy insulin response, helps minimize harmful free radicals, and gives you lots of fiber to quickly move waste and food through your digestive tract. This is the best way to maintain both healthy cholesterol levels and heart health.
2. Choose Foods Rich in Phytosterols
Phytosterols, which are plant-derived compounds, help to naturally lower total and LDL cholesterol levels. While our ancestors’ diets were abundant in phytosterols, the typical Western diet has 1/10th the phytosterols of our ancestors’ diets.1 Consuming more phytosterols can help to lower high cholesterol levels.
You can find phytosterols in mostly all plant foods, but you will find the highest concentration in plant oils, as well as nuts and legumes, including:
- Sesame seeds: 714 mg/100g
- Sunflower seeds: 534 mg/100g
- Olive oil: 232 mg/100g
- Soybeans: 161 mg/100g
- Cashews: 158 mg/100g
- Almonds: 143 mg/100g
- Kidney beans: 127 mg/100g
- Broad beans: 124 mg/100g
- Pecans: 108 mg/100g
3. Exercise for 30 Minutes a Day
Exercise plays a major role in lowering cholesterol. As your metabolism rises during exercise, your liver creates more of the healthy HDL cholesterol and clears away more LDL cholesterol—particularly the small-pattern LDL that leads to an imbalanced inflammation response. Heart healthy exercise can also help you lose weight, and excess weight often mean excess cholesterol.
To reap the cholesterol-lowering benefits of exercise, you want to get at least 30 minutes of physical activity per day. It doesn’t have to be vigorous exercise; walking and dancing are both fine. The important thing is to keep active.
In addition, adopting a simple weight-training program can also benefit those with cardiovascular health concerns. Studies indicate that strength training can maintain healthy blood pressure, cholesterol, and cardiovascular endurance.
4. Take Cholesterol Balancing Supplements
Adding key nutritional supplements to your daily regimen can go a long way toward supporting healthy cholesterol and keeping levels in a normal, healthy range, including:
- Omega-3s: Also known as “essential” fatty acids (EFAs) because they are essential for life, omega-3s help maintain normal triglyceride levels as well as healthy HDL levels.
- Niacin (vitamin B3): This fantastic nutrient can really have an impact in helping support healthy HDL, as well as keep both triglycerides and the LDL cholesterol subtype known as Lp(a) in a healthy range.
- Policosanol: This waxy substance derived from sugar has been shown to help maintain both total and LDL cholesterol levels.
- Delta Tocotrienol: A member of the vitamin E family, tocotrienol compounds occur naturally in plants to protect the carotenoids from degradation. The latest research shows that delta tocotrienol is particularly effective for maintaining overall cholesterol levels in a healthy range, and more importantly levels of Lp(a).
- Garlic: Garlic contains potent antioxidants that help protect LDL cholesterol from free-radical oxidation.
5. Lose Weight
Shedding unwanted pounds is a powerful tool to raise your levels of helpful HDL cholesterol. Some strategies to lose weight: avoid/limit processed foods, refined carbohydrates, sugar, and trans-fats, and follow my highly suggested Pan Asian Modified Mediterranean (PAMM) Diet.
Another safe, fast, and inexpensive strategy to lose weight is to give the ketogenic diet a try. With this diet plan, you restrict your carbohydrate intake to 5-10%, proteins to 10-20%, and increase fats to 70-80%. More and more studies are showing that this diet is effective not only for weight loss but also for reducing LDL cholesterol levels and triglycerides, as well as increasing good HDL.
6. Reduce Stress
Uncontrolled stress is an important negative contributor to health overall and that of your heart. The good news is that by managing your stress, you can help to keep your heart healthy. Some good stress management techniques include exercise, yoga, meditation, and T’ai Chi.
7. Quit Smoking
Smoking has many devastating health consequences on your body and your heart. But did you know it also suppresses helpful HDL cholesterol levels? If you smoke, try to kick the habit.
The Bottom Line on Maintaining Your Cholesterol Levels in a Healthy Range
The take away message here is that you want to make sure you have all the facts straight when it comes to cholesterol. Also, avoid the nonsense you’ve been led to believe about avoiding eggs and good fats from nuts, seeds, avocados, and coconut oil. And, if there is cause for concern, incorporate the lifestyle, nutritional supplement, and diet tips I outlined above to keep your cholesterol healthy.