Eat What You Love and Lower Your Cholesterol

Your cholesterol drug will work better — and your dose can be lower — if you also eat right, exercise, and maintain a heart-healthy weight. Find out how.

Taking a cholesterol-lowering medication doesn’t mean you can go out and eat a hamburger and french fries every day. A high-fat, high-cholesterol diet can actually decrease how well your new medication works. There are a few things to remember when thinking about how your diet affects your cholesterol. It is not only the cholesterol in food that affects your cholesterol levels. Here are some of the other dietary factors that contribute to high cholesterol.

Dietary contributors to high LDL (bad) cholesterol levels:

  • Saturated fat; found mostly in foods that come from animals
  • Trans fat; found mostly in foods with hydrogenated oils and fats, such as margarine and many processed foods, such as cookies and crackers
  • Cholesterol; the only source is animal products
  • Excess weight (also raises triglyceride levels)

Therapeutic Lifestyle Change (TLC): What Is It?

Even though you are taking a cholesterol-lowering medication, your diet and lifestyle are still equally important and allow your doctor to prescribe the lowest dose. Small changes in your diet and lifestyle could mean big changes in your cholesterol levels and are part of the TLC program that is recommended in combination with your new medication. Your doctor is your best guide to the TLC program, but here is a brief overview of the three main components; diet, physical activity, and weight management.

Eating to Lower Your Cholesterol

The TLC diet suggests choosing a variety of nutritious foods, including fruits, vegetables, whole grains, low-fat or non-fat dairy products, fish, skinless poultry and a moderate amount of lean meats. Eating a diet low in saturated fat, trans fat and cholesterol not only helps lower your cholesterol, it helps your medications work better and may keep you on a lower dose. Here are some tips for what to avoid, how to make healthier meals and stick with your healthy diet.

  • Reduce your sodium intake by choosing low-sodium foods, such as whole grains, fruits, vegetables, and low- or nonfat dairy products. Avoid adding salt to foods; instead season with herbs and spices.
  • Eat moderate amounts of lean meats; avoid fatty cuts of meat and remove skin from poultry.
  • Avoid foods containing tropical oils, such as coconut oil, palm kernel, and palm oils.
  • Reduce your intake of dietary cholesterol to less than 200 mg per day. Food sources of cholesterol include egg yolks, liver, shellfish and whole milk dairy products, such as ice cream, butter and cheese.
  • Get enough fiber. Food sources of fiber include oats, barley, lentils, beans, fruits, and vegetables.
  • Cook with heart-healthy oils that contain unsaturated fats, such as safflower, corn, olive, canola and peanut oils instead of butter; using cooking oil sprays to help lower fat and calories.
  • Other good sources of heart-healthy, unsaturated fats include nuts, olives, avocados, and fatty fish, such as salmon.
  • Broiling, steaming, poaching, or boiling are all better cooking alternatives than frying,

These are just some highlights of the TLC diet. Your doctor is your best guide to the TLC diet, and a nutritionist may also be a great help as you get started. Asking questions is always the best way to ensure you are on the right path to a heart-healthy diet.

Moving to Lower Your Cholesterol

Even when taking a cholesterol-lowering medication and eating a heart-healthy diet, you still need to get moving and exercise. Physical activity has many benefits when you are trying to lower your cholesterol and be heart-healthy. Here are some of the benefits of physical activity.

  • Lower LDL cholesterol levels
  • Higher HDL (good) cholesterol levels
  • Lower triglyceride levels
  • Weight control
  • Improved health of your heart and lungs
  • Lower blood pressure

If you are already physically active, keep up the great work. If you are just starting out, start slowly and gradually increase your physical activity over time. Check with your doctor before beginning any new exercise program to find out what works best for you. Unless your doctor advises otherwise, the TLC program encourages at least 30 minutes of moderate activity, such as brisk walking, on most days of the week.

Maintaining a Healthy Weight to Lower Your Cholesterol

Losing excess weight will not only reduce your risk for serious health problems, such as heart disease and diabetes, but it will improve your cholesterol, LDL and triglyceride levels as well. Losing just 10 percent of your body weight can provide big benefits and lowers your risk for health problems. The other two parts of the TLC program, diet and physical activity, will help you achieve your weight goals and maintain a healthy weight, the last component of the program. All of these together will help your cholesterol-lowering medication work to the best of its ability. Here are some tips to losing weight and maintaining a heart-healthy weight.

  • Check with your doctor to find out what a healthy weight is for you
  • If you need to lose weight, do it slowly and safely, aiming for one or two pounds per week
  • Reduce calories, fat and cholesterol in your diet
  • Exercise to burn more calories

Remember, there is no quick fix for losing weight. Extreme diet programs or diet pills are only a short-term solution. The goal is to lose excess weight, keep it off and maintain your heart-healthy weight. The safest way to maintain a heart-healthy weight and lower cholesterol is to follow the TLC diet, reduce your daily caloric intake and exercise. The idea is to find what works best for you.

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