Diet and lifestyle choices aren't only evident on the bathroom scale. The effect of these choices is also reflected with relative accuracy in cholesterol numbers.
The May issue of Mayo Clinic Health Letter looks at how an individual's lifestyle choices can affect "good" and "bad" cholesterol levels as well as levels of triglycerides, another blood fat.
Cholesterol isn't inherently bad. It's essential to normal body functions and is found in every cell of the body. Cholesterol helps with digestion and hormone production. But too much puts blood vessels at risk. Cholesterol and triglycerides travel through the bloodstream, attached to proteins called lipoproteins. Deposits of excess low-density lipoprotein, the "bad" cholesterol, in the blood vessel walls result in narrowing. As blood flow is restricted, the risk of heart attack, stroke or sudden death increases.
Two factors affecting total cholesterol, age and heredity, can't be controlled. But many can.
For elevated LDL ("bad") cholesterol: The leading contributor to elevated LDL cholesterol is a diet high in saturated and trans fats. To reduce LDL levels, limit saturated fats, trans fats and high-cholesterol foods. To improve your cholesterol, use cholesterol-lowering foods made with plant sterols, for example, the margarine-like spreads. Another strategy is to eat more foods high in soluble fiber, such as oatmeal, apples and kidney beans.
For low HDL ("good") cholesterol: A sedentary lifestyle and lack of exercise are major causes of low HDL levels. To make a difference, significantly increase the frequency and intensity of exercise. Also beneficial is boosting HDL-friendly omega-3 fatty acid intake by eating fatty fish (salmon, mackerel) or taking fish oil supplements.
For high triglycerides: Contributors to high triglyceride levels are being overweight, a high intake of sugary food and excess alcohol consumption. To lower triglyceride levels, cut back on calories, limit sugar and alcohol, and get regular exercise. Other strategies include losing excess weight, eating more whole grains and taking fish oil supplements.
Sometimes, diet and lifestyle choices alone aren't enough to manage total cholesterol levels. Yet, diet and exercise are important management strategies even when cholesterol-lowering medications are indicated.
Mayo Clinic Health Letter