While you can't literally flush cholesterol out of your arteries as you would clear a clogged drain, you may be able to reduce cholesterol levels by making a few key lifestyle changes. When you reduce low-density lipoprotein levels and total cholesterol, you lessen the risk of dangerous plaque buildup on your artery walls. This plaque increases your chance of heart attack and stroke, which is why controlling your cholesterol could help save your life.
Fill Up on Fiber
One way to help lower cholesterol levels is to include more fiber in your diet. Fiber -- particularly soluble fiber -- binds with fatty acids and is shown to reduce LDL cholesterol as well as total cholesterol. Get soluble fiber from oatmeal, beans, peas, nuts and flax seeds. Although no specific daily recommendations for soluble fiber exist, the publication, "Dietary Guidelines for Americans, 2010" advises eating 14 grams of total fiber per 1,000 calories, or 28 grams in a 2,000-calorie diet.
Say No to Saturated Fat
Saturated fat is linked to high cholesterol levels, so reduce your intake to help protect your heart. Saturated fat is found in animal products such as butter, hamburgers, poultry skin, marbled steaks, sausage, ribs and full-fat cheeses, as well as some plant foods such as palm oil. Also look out for saturated fats in pastries, cakes and chocolate candy, which may be high in milk fats. Healthier fat sources include nuts, avocados, olive oil and most vegetable oils. Avoid hydrogenated vegetable oil, however, as it contains cholesterol-spiking trans fats.
If you're overweight or obese, you're more likely to have unhealthy cholesterol levels. Losing weight can reverse this effect, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Achieve weight loss by reducing portion sizes and eating filling, low-calorie foods such as fresh fruits and vegetables, broth-based soups, brown rice and whole-grain bread. Also choose lean proteins, which satisfy with fewer calories than fatty meats and cheeses. Lean examples include beans, tofu, water-packed tuna and egg whites. As you reduce calories, increase exercise to help burn more calories than you eat -- the key to successful weight loss.
While lifestyle changes are important for cholesterol management, nothing is a replacement for proper medical care and cholesterol-lowering medications when needed. To ensure proper diagnosis and treatment, the American Heart Association recommends that all adults over 20 have their cholesterol checked every five years. If you have high LDL or total cholesterol levels, low HDL cholesterol levels or increased risk of heart disease or stroke, more frequent testing is necessary. Men over 45, as well as women over 50, also need more frequent cholesterol tests.
- American Heart Association: How to Get Your Cholesterol Tested
- National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute: What Is Cholesterol?
- University of Colorado, Colorado Springs: Soluble Fiber Vs Insoluble Fiber
- U.S. Department of Agriculture and U.S. Department of Health and Human Services: Dietary Guidelines for Americans, 2010
- Stanford Hospital and Clinics: How to Lower Your LDL Cholesterol
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: Cholesterol: What You Can Do
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: Low-Energy-Dense Foods and Weight Management: Cutting Calories While Controlling Hunger