Your body needs some cholesterol to work properly. But if you have too much in your blood, it can stick to the walls of your arteries and narrow or even block them. This puts you at risk for coronary artery disease and other heart diseases. Cholesterol travels through the blood on proteins called lipoproteins. One type, LDL, is sometimes called the “bad” cholesterol. A high LDL level leads to a buildup of cholesterol in your arteries. Another type, HDL, is sometimes called the “good” cholesterol.
Changing what foods you eat can lower your cholesterol and improve the armada of fats floating through your bloodstream. Adding foods that lower LDL, the harmful cholesterol-carrying particle that contributes to artery-clogging atherosclerosis, is the best way to achieve a low cholesterol diet. Different foods lower cholesterol in various ways. Some deliver soluble fiber, which binds cholesterol and its precursors in the digestive system and drags them out of the body before they get into circulation. Some give you polyunsaturated fats, which directly lower LDL. An easy first step to lowering your cholesterol is having a bowl of oatmeal or cold oat-based cereal like Cheerios for breakfast. It gives you 1 to 2 grams of soluble fiber. Add a banana or some strawberries for another half-gram. Current nutrition guidelines recommend getting 20 to 35 grams of fiber a day, with at least 5 to 10 grams coming from soluble fiber.
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Lifestyle changes can help improve your cholesterol — and boost the cholesterol-lowering power of medications. High cholesterol increases your risk of heart disease and heart attacks. Medications can help improve your cholesterol. But if you’d rather first make lifestyle changes to improve your cholesterol, try these five healthy changes. Exercise can improve cholesterol. Moderate physical activity can help raise high-density lipoprotein HDL cholesterol, the “good” cholesterol. With your doctor’s OK, work up to at least 30 minutes of exercise five times a week or vigorous aerobic activity for 20 minutes three times a week. Adding physical activity, even in short intervals several times a day, can help you begin to lose weight. Quitting smoking improves your HDL cholesterol level. The benefits occur quickly.