- Cholesterol is a type of fat in the blood that builds healthy cells, aids with cell signaling, and is a precursor for vitamin D and certain hormones.
- High cholesterol levels, which is a reading above 240mg/dL, can increase the risk of heart disease, heart attack, and stroke.
- Working with a registered dietitian nutritionist and making dietary changes can help lower your cholesterol.
Cholesterol is a type of fat in the body that serves several functions, including cell signaling and building healthy cells. Cell membranes are made with cholesterol, and the molecules serve as a precursor for other organic materials in the body, including vitamin D and certain hormones.
Although having some cholesterol in the body is essential, high levels can increase your risk of heart disease, heart attack, and stroke. In this article, you’ll learn more about the link between diet and cholesterol levels and why working with a registered dietitian nutritionist can help.
Nourish offers individualized nutrition counseling to people nationwide, and the most popular insurance carriers cover the services. If you’re ready to make long-lasting changes that support your heart health, consider booking an appointment today.
What Is Cholesterol?
Several different types of cholesterol in the body circulate through your bloodstream. You can complete a blood test to know your levels, which your doctor may call a lipid panel. Three commonly assessed cholesterol types include:
- Low-density lipoprotein (LDL) - sometimes called the “bad” cholesterol, contributes to atherosclerosis plaque in the arteries and increases the risk of heart attacks.
- High-density lipoprotein (HDL) - this is sometimes called the “good” cholesterol and helps remove LDL from the body.
- Triglycerides (TG) - a type of fat molecule that is stored until energy is needed.
Several factors can influence your cholesterol levels, including genetics, a diet rich in saturated fats and fiber, lack of physical activity, smoking, unmanaged stress, other medical conditions, and drinking too much alcohol. Working with a healthcare professional, like a dietitian, can help you make changes to optimize your levels.
Risks of High Cholesterol Levels
Having high cholesterol levels can increase the risk of heart disease, blood vessel damage, and stroke. Fortunately, most people can lower their levels to a safe range through the combined approach of diet and lifestyle changes and sometimes medications.
Can a Nutritionist Help Lower Cholesterol?
A dietitian nutritionist can help you lower your cholesterol levels through dietary interventions. Some of the changes you can make include adding more fiber to your diet, specifically foods that are rich in soluble fiber. The gel-like texture of the soluble fiber traps cholesterol, and the lipids exit the body with the natural wastes in the stool. Foods that are high in soluble fiber include oats, bran, legumes, and fruits, and fiber supplements are also available.
Benefits of Working with a Nutritionist for Lowering Cholesterol
A benefit of working with a dietitian is the opportunity to create a healthcare plan that is tailored to your goals. This includes your food preferences, cooking skills, and budgetary considerations.
Having someone in your corner can increase accountability so you can stick to your goals long-term.
Questions to Ask a Nutritionist about Lowering Cholesterol
If you have just received a new diagnosis of high cholesterol, you may have nutrition questions you want to address:
- What foods lower cholesterol levels?
- Are there any foods I should not eat?
- When can I have my blood checked again to retest my numbers?
- Can I still drink alcohol while trying to lower cholesterol?
- Do you have any heart-healthy recipes or a meal plan?
- Are there any supplements that can help lower cholesterol?
Creating an Eating Plan for Lower Cholesterol
A diet plan for lowering cholesterol should be balanced with a preference for whole, unprocessed foods. You can build an eating plan to lower cholesterol by following these guidelines:
- Eat more fiber-rich foods, especially those containing soluble fiber (aim for 5-10g daily). These include oats, barley, quinoa, chickpeas, other legumes, and fruits. Consider taking a fiber supplement if you need more support.
- Decrease your intake of saturated fats, which can lead to plaque buildup in the arteries. Foods high in saturated fats include high-fat dairy products, deep-fried foods, and meats with visible fat.
- Increase your intake of plant-based proteins, which are lower in saturated fats. These foods include lentils, tofu, and tempeh.
- Add more unsaturated fats to your diet. They can ease inflammation in the body, and they support healthy cholesterol levels. These foods include avocado, olive oil, nuts and seeds, and omega-3 fatty acids (salmon, trout, tuna, mackerel, and herring).
The Mediterranean diet is one of the most studied diets in the world, specifically for its role in supporting heart health and cholesterol management.
Several reasons this diet is beneficial are the focus on high-fiber foods, plant-based proteins, a preference for seafood, and a limited amount of desserts or refined foods. You can still enjoy sweet treats, but a moderate approach can help you build a balanced meal plan to help your cholesterol levels remain stable.
You can work with a registered dietitian to build a diet that helps you improve your cholesterol levels and includes all your favorite foods. Book an online appointment with a Nourish dietitian to start receiving personalized care.
Other Strategies for Managing High Cholesterol Levels
Complete Regular Blood work
Stay on top of your blood work and check your cholesterol levels regularly. This is the most effective way to assess your numbers and monitor any changes.
- People under the age of 19 can be tested every 5 years if there is a family history of cardiovascular disorders.
- People between the ages of 20 and 65 should be checked every 5 years.
- Men aged 45–65 should be checked every 1-2 years.
- Women aged 55–65 should be checked every 1–2 years.
- Anyone above the age of 65 should be checked annually.
Increase Physical Activity
As well as making dietary changes and keeping up with bloodwork, you should also focus on other lifestyle changes. These include increasing your physical activity to a minimum of 150 minutes of aerobic exercise per week and two additional days of resistance training.
You can break up your exercise routine into a schedule that feels right for you. This may include brisk daily walks of 20 minutes or four 40-minute exercise classes with Zumba or cycling. Add yoga, pilates, or weight training twice weekly for resistance exercises.
If you are inactive, you should gradually increase your workouts as you feel able. You don’t have to hit 150 minutes weekly immediately; small, consistent steps toward this goal will still benefit your health.
You should quit smoking if you are currently using tobacco-based products. The ingredients in cigarettes and other tobacco-based products are known to affect health negatively, and eliminating them from your lifestyle can reduce your risk of heart disease. Your physician can help you quit if you need support.
Your body will always have circulating cholesterol, but high levels above 240mg/dL can increase your risk of heart disease and other complications. Fortunately, you may be able to bring down your cholesterol levels by working with a trained nutrition professional, such as a registered dietitian.
To help improve your numbers, you should prioritize increasing your fiber intake, with a special focus on soluble fiber, as well as increasing your intake of foods rich in unsaturated fats. If possible, try to cook more meals at home so that you have full control over the ingredients and you can season the dishes to your preference.
How a Dietitian Can Help
A registered dietitian nutritionist can help you lower cholesterol levels through diet and lifestyle changes. It can take time to see changes in your blood work, and working with a dietitian can help you stay motivated.
Nourish offers personalized nutrition counseling and accepts the most popular insurance carriers. If you want to take the next step in your health journey, consider booking a virtual appointment with a registered dietitian.
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