Valisure intern Karine Bruce-Doe is a senior at New York University.

To maintain a normal total cholesterol level you may want to consider: lowering low-density lipoproteins (LDL) or “bad” cholesterol, raising high-density lipoproteins (HDL) or “good” cholesterol, and lowering triglycerides. There are small, simple changes one can make to their daily habits to prevent the development of high cholesterol or improve management if one already suffers from it.

Habits that can raise your cholesterol

Smoking raises LDL and triglycerides due to acrolein, a toxin found in cigarettes and vaping mechanisms. The chemical alters LDL, leading to increased immune response, inflammation and cholesterol buildup in the arteries.

Consuming alcoholic beverages in excessive amounts is known for raising triglyceride levels. The high sugar content in alcohol can increase your rise for elevated triglycerides. Beer, hard liquor, and mixed drinks are examples of beverages to avoid or consume in moderation.

There are also foods and non-alcoholic beverages people should consume in moderation if they are trying to prevent or manage high cholesterol. Foods that are high in added sugars, saturated fat, and trans fat can contribute to high cholesterol.  

Many people have been able to lower high cholesterol levels by reducing intake of  dairy, meat, sugars, processed foods, and starches.  Please speak to your doctor to develop a plan that works for you.

Habits that can lower your cholesterol

Completing 150 minutes of physical activity a week (approximately 30 minutes a day, 5 days a week) burns fat from the body and prevents LDL from building up in the bloodstream. Aerobic exercises can also boost HDL levels. According to Harvard Health Publishing, maintaining a smaller waist circumference can help one manage their cholesterol due to the abdomen being a common area of fat buildup.

Lowering cholesterol with diet is an important cholesterol management tactic. Within each food group, there are many foods one can eat in order to lower their cholesterol. They include:

  • Whole grains. Oats, barley, quinoa, and brown rice are examples of whole grains that can help one control their cholesterol. This is due to soluble fibers, such as beta-glucans, found in them. They retain water and form a gel-like substance in the stomach and intestines that prevents the absorption of fats, cholesterol, and sugars, leading to lower LDL and blood sugar levels. And unlike their starchy equivalents, they will not raise triglyceride levels. 
  • Nuts. Almonds, walnuts, and pistachios contain unsaturated fat, which can serve as a healthy alternative to saturated and trans fat. Talk with your doctor about how much you should consume.
  • Meat. Fish like salmon, tuna, sardines, and halibut are high in omega-3, which lower triglycerides. Lean pieces of pork tenderloin, chicken, and turkey are healthy choices when focusing on lowering cholesterol.
  • Legumes. Legumes (beans) are also high in fiber. Black, garbanzo, and kidney beans as well as lentils are examples of this food group.
  • Fruits. Pears, apples, and citrus fruit contain a chemical called pectin, which is found in fiber. Pectin helps the body excrete LDL cholesterol. Apples also contain antioxidant polyphenols, which also help lower LDL levels. Berries and grapes contain antioxidants that not only lower LDL levels, but also raise HDL levels.
  • Vegetables. Eggplant and okra are high in fiber too. Tomatoes contain a nutrient called lycopene which gives them their reddish appearance and lowers LDL in the body. Avocados contain monounsaturated fats, or MUFAs, which help lower LDL levels.

There are other foods that are beneficial for lowering total cholesterol. Black and green tea as well dark chocolate contain catechin, a chemical that can decrease cholesterol levels. As previously stated, alcohol consumption in moderation will not have a negative impact on one’s cholesterol levels. In fact, red wine can positively impact one’s levels of cholesterol. This is due to the presence of resveratrol, a chemical that reduces LDL cholesterol and damage to blood vessels. It also helps move proteins in the bloodstream, which prevents blood clots from forming. Please consult a doctor when making changes to your diet.

High cholesterol, in most cases, is a manageable medical condition. However, medications may be needed for more severe cases. In a future blog release, prescriptive and non-prescriptive medications used to lower cholesterol will be explored.

The Centers for Disease Control hosts a wealth of content on cholesterol. 

More information on High Cholesterol: