Healthy Cholesterol—No Meds Needed

by karen on June 7, 2019

If you don’t know what your current cholesterol numbers are, find out. Starting at age 20, we should all get a blood test (called a lipid panel) to help measure our risk for heart disease. If your results are elevated, you’ll want to be proactive with lifestyle modification that can reduce your numbers and subsequently your risk for heart attack and stroke. If your numbers are normal, you’ll still want to ensure you’re intentionally living a healthy lifestyle to keep your heart strong.

If you know your current cholesterol numbers and blood pressure, take this quick assessment of your 10 year risk for cardiovascular disease (CVD). I hope your results are good, but if they aren’t, don’t panic. Simple changes can reduce cholesterol values by 20 percent, or even 30 in those with the most changes to make. Those results are as good or better than cholesterol medicines like statins achieve—without side effects.

LDL Cholesterol—we’ll call it “lousy” cholesterol—is a significant contributor to the vessel blockage that defines heart disease. With each 1 point reduction in LDL Cholesterol, there’s a ½ percent reduction in risk of heart attack or stroke, which really pays off. Let’s say your LDL Cholesterol is elevated at 118 points; a 20 percent reduction (achievable with lifestyle) can bring those values into normal range (less than 100) at 94. The 24 point drop results in a 12 percent reduced risk.

Before you get concerned that the foods you love will be forever nixed from you diet, know that you want to be in it for the long haul; all foods can have a place in a balanced diet, and trying to drop foods “cold-turkey” won’t be likely to work. Following our guidelines 80 percent of the time should be enough to get you lower cholesterol numbers that translate to a reduced risk of heart disease.

Go For The Plants

Whole grains, fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds and legumes all have fiber that acts as a gentle scrub brush in our arteries to keep cholesterol from sticking and forming plaque that can create blockages. Plant foods and their fiber also bind with cholesterol to reduce the amount circulating in the bloodstream and can reduce the amount of cholesterol produced in the liver.

Some of the best fiber sources for cholesterol reduction:

  • Oats, oat bran, legumes (like kidney beans, garbanzo beans, split peas, lentils), barley, prunes, apples, Brussels sprouts, baked potatoes and sweet potatoes with the skin, peas, carrots, eggplant, okra

    • Eat 2 or more cups each of vegetables and fruit daily

    • If you like numbers, aim for 25-35 grams of total fiber daily, with 10 of those grams from soluble fiber

Choose Healthy Fats

Fish. 6 ounces of fatty fish weekly provides a healthy dose of cholesterol-lowering omega-3’s. Salmon, mackerel, lake trout, herring, sardines, Albacore tuna and halibut are good choices.

If you don’t like fish, take an omega-3 supplement daily that has 350-500 mg EPA/DHA, the therapeutic fats in fish.

Nuts. Eat 2 to 4 tablespoons of any nut you like daily, for healthy fat and fiber. Raw is best.

Olive oil. Up to 2 tablespoons of olive oil daily, particularly EVOO (extra-virgin olive oil with more antioxidants). If you eat butter, use a butter/olive oil blend, switch to an olive oil mayonnaise, or make an EVOO-based dressing for salads.

Flax. 2 tablespoons of ground flax daily, for its healthy fat and fiber. Add it to smoothies, sprinkle on salads, stir into yogurt and hot cereal, or use as an egg replacement in baked goods.

Make a Splash With Your Beverage

Green tea. Drinking 1-2 cups daily can help with LDL cholesterol reduction to a small degree, but if you like green tea, higher intakes will have a greater impact. Choose from the wide range available and go with hot and iced versions, just avoid those with sugar.

Cocoa powder. Skip the hot cocoa mix from the store that’s loaded with sugar or the Starbucks hot chocolate loaded with fat, sugar and calories. Make your own hot chocolate with cocoa powder, a nonfat or lowfat milk/alternative and an artificial sweetener of your choice. Cocoa powder has all of the beneficial compounds that chocolate does, minus the calories, fat, saturated fat and sugar. It’s a delicious addition to a green smoothie, hot cereal, yogurt, coffee or this recipe for Chocolate Superfood Pudding.

Have your lipid levels checked again 6 to 12 weeks after making these changes, and you should be rewarded with an improvement in your numbers, all the while enjoying healthy and satisfying foods.


Karen Fisher, MS, RD, LDN, CDE is a dietitian in Reno, Nevada, happily promoting the benefits of healthy foods at her nutrition consulting firm, Nutrition Connection. Find her website

To find a nutrition expert in your area, go to the academy website – Find an Expert

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