Start with food. Your diet is an important factor in controlling cholesterol. A healthful low-fat eating plan, combined with regular physical activity, is key to heart health. In fact, new National Cholesterol Education Program guidelines recommend that one in three Americans need to make diet changes to lower their risk for heart disease.
Foods high in soluble fiber, like oatmeal, beans and peas, barley, and many fruits and vegetables (such as apples, oranges, and carrots) are now recommended to help lower cholesterol levels.
Get to Know Cholesterol -- The Good and the Bad
The "bad" LDL (low density lipoprotein) cholesterol is like a one-way bus. It carries cholesterol from the liver (where cholesterol is made and recycled) and deposits it in the arteries where it can cause blockage that leads to heart disease.
The "good" HDL (high density lipoprotein) cholesterol is like a second one-way bus. It picks up cholesterol from the arteries and brings it back to the liver so the cholesterol does not harm arteries.
Beyond the basics. Don't forget snacks! Everyone enjoys a little boost between meals, so stock the kitchen with nutritious, great tasting options such as low-fat popcorn, nuts and pretzels.
Boost the Good and Lower the Bad
Bottom line? The less LDL you have, and the more HDL cholesterol you have, the lower your risk for heart disease.
The best way to increase your HDL, "good" blood cholesterol, is to stay active and trim away excess pounds if you are not already at a healthy body weight.
When it comes to LDL, the "bad" cholesterol, your food choices are key. A heart-healthy eating pattern -- a diet that's high in soluble fiber with moderate amounts of fat and cholesterol -- can make a difference and can help reduce LDL levels.
To lower LDL, try eating more foods high in soluble fiber. Studies have shown that oatmeal helps to lower LDL cholesterol, without lowering HDL.
Eat foods from all five food groups -- And eat a variety of foods within each food group. That way you will get a full benefit package from food.
Remember breakfast -- A perfect time to enjoy fiber-rich foods and fuel your body for the day ahead. Enjoy oatmeal, or other whole-grain cereals. Top a bowl of whole-grain or fiber rich hot or cold cereal with fruit and nuts for additional fiber.
Pick high-fiber snacks -- When you need a quick energy boost during the day, reach for a high-fiber treat. Popcorn, fresh fruit, raw vegetables, or nuts are convenient and healthful choices.
"Fiberize" your cooking style -- Substitute higher-fiber ingredients in recipes. Swap up to one-third of the flour with quick or old-fashioned oats when you bake. Add extra vegetables to casseroles, soups, salads and pasta dishes. Use brown rice instead of white rice.
Eat at least five servings of fruits and vegetables daily -- When possible, eat the skin -- it provides fiber, too!