High cholesterol is one of the leading causes of heart attacks. But cholesterol buildup comes with no signs or symptoms, so you can go years before you notice a problem. That’s why it’s so important to check your cholesterol levels as you age. If your numbers are concerning, you can make lifestyle changes to lower your cholesterol and reduce your chances of a heart attack.
But what is cholesterol?
It’s a waxy, fat-like substance essential in hormone production. Yes, we all need cholesterol for optimal function. The problem starts when too much cholesterol in your blood combines with other substances and builds up into plaque in your blood vessels. Atherosclerosis is a cardio-vascular disease of plaque buildup against artery walls—resulting in narrowed arteries and causing heart attacks and strokes.
What causes high cholesterol levels?
I’m sorry to break the news, but the main cause of high cholesterol is bad habits and lifestyle choices. Eating a lot of trans fats and saturated fats—such is highly processed and deep-fried foods—is one of the leading causes of it. Even eating too much red meat and dairy products can contribute to the problem.
Lack of exercise, leading a fully sedentary lifestyle, and smoking are other important risk factors.
The best way to maintain a healthy cholesterol level—or bring your levels down to a normal balance—is to make changes in the way you eat and live.
- Eat heart-healthy fats, such as olive oils, lean white meat, and avocados.
- Eat lots of fruits and vegetables, and try to make most of your grains whole grains.
- Avoid highly processed and nutritionally empty foods and drinks.
- Start exercising, with your doctor’s guidance.
There are medications available to help lower your cholesterol, such as statins. If lifestyle changes alone don’t reduce your cholesterol to a healthy level, your doctor will prescribe such drugs to help you.
Don’t eggs cause high cholesterol, too?
Chicken eggs are very high in cholesterol, but that doesn’t necessarily affect our blood cholesterol levels. Research shows that the more likely cause of heart disease in Americans are the foods that traditionally accompany your breakfast eggs—high-sodium bacon and the trans fats in frying hash browns or eggs.
The most recent research suggests that healthy people can eat up to 7 eggs a week with no affect on their blood cholesterol level. This does not apply to those with diabetes, whose risk may actually go up from eating the same amount of eggs a week.
A large egg has about 186 mg of cholesterol in the yolk, while egg whites have no cholesterol at all. If you like your daily omelet, consider using one full egg and one egg white to lower your cholesterol consumption.