Lowering Cholesterol

By Charlyn Fargo

April 26, 2019 7 min read

Need to improve your cholesterol?

There are lots of us in that same lunchroom. More than a third of American adults have high levels of unhealthy cholesterol, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Cholesterol — a white, waxy substance — is known to be an artery clogger, sort of like the buildup of plaque on your teeth.

After my recent yearly physical, I joined the club. My longtime, trusted physician explained my cholesterol levels were "too high" to be solved through diet alone. (But really, I'm a dietitian and I know how to eat, I protested). He wrote a script for a low-dose statin, which the nurse told me to take at bedtime. Who knew our bodies make cholesterol at night?

High cholesterol is in my genes, at least on my mother's side. She suffered from heart problems much of her life and eventually died of heart disease.

Here are a few things I've learned about cholesterol: Every cell in your body contains it, and it's an important building block for tissues that make up our organs. While I have high high-density lipoprotein or HDL cholesterol (considered the "good" kind), I also have high low-density lipoprotein or LDL cholesterol (considered the "bad" one). Too much LDL cholesterol can attach to the walls of blood vessels and lead to heart disease. The HDL cholesterol helps transport LDL cholesterol to the liver and out of the body.

Simple dietary changes can help reduce cholesterol levels by up to 30%, so I'm more determined than ever to do that. These changes include eating foods lower in saturated fat, avoiding trans fat in foods, maintaining a healthy weight and exercising regularly (and more than I have been).

Here are some other tips I'm giving myself and sharing with you, just in case you're on this journey as well:

— Boost your soluble fiber intake to three servings a day. Soluble fiber is in foods such as oatmeal, oat bran, barley, beans (kidney, black, navy), flaxseed, chia seed and many fruits and vegetables.

— Increase consumption of whole-grain foods — whole wheat pasta, brown rice, high-fiber cereals.

Try psyllium, which is found in fiber supplements such as Metamucil, as a way to boost both insoluble and soluble fiber.

— Add heart-healthy fish such as salmon, tuna, halibut and trout, which are all good sources of omega-3 fats.

— Add nuts, which can do wonders for cholesterol. A meta-analysis of studies published in the Archives of Internal Medicine found that people who consume about 2 1/2 ounces of nuts a day typically lowered their LDL cholesterol by 7%.

— Exercise more. Working out helps us burn fat as fuel, which helps clear cholesterol from the blood, and it may also activate enzymes to produce more of the good HDL cholesterol. The American Heart Association recommends 30 minutes of cardio (brisk walking) at least five days a week as well as some strength training for best health. A 2017 study found that those who walked at least 30 minutes a day significantly lowered their risk of heart failure, according to the American College of Cardiology.

I know all of these tips are doable, it just takes some persistence (for the exercise) and making good food choices.

Q and A

Q: A friend of mine asked me recently whether coffee depletes phosphorus levels in the bones and that's why people break their bones. She wondered if it was the coffee or the caffeine, and should she stop drinking coffee in the mornings?

A: It is the caffeine, not just the coffee, according to research I've done. But I wouldn't give up a cup of coffee because of a food scare over this or anything else. I'd just have coffee — like everything else — in moderation. The real issue is whether you're getting enough calcium (from milk, yogurt, broccoli or a calcium supplement) to prevent brittle bones and osteoporosis in later years. Eliminating foods is never a good idea in my book. Instead, look at what you eat on a daily basis and determine if those foods are supplying your body with good fuel or if most of your foods are empty calories. There are plenty of studies that suggest a cup of black coffee has benefits — without the excess cream, sugar and calories. Everything can fit into a healthy meal plan in the right portions and amounts.


I love when we fire up the grill. Pair that idea with some healthy salmon and you've got a great meal. Here's a recipe for cedar-planked salmon with citrus-chive butter from Hy-Vee's Seasons magazine.


2 cedar grilling planks

1/4 cup salted butter, softened

1 tablespoon finely chopped shallot

1 tablespoon finely chopped fresh chives

1 teaspoon orange zest

2 teaspoons fresh orange juice

4 (4-6 ounce each) portions frozen sockeye salmon fillet portions, thawed

Freshly ground sea salt and black pepper to taste

Sliced green onions, for garnish

Soak cedar planks in water for 30 minutes. Stir together butter, shallot, chives and orange zest and juice. Preheat a charcoal or gas grill for direct cooking over medium heat. Place soaked plants on hot grill for 5 minutes or until lightly smoking, turning once. Place salmon portions, skin side down, on cedar planks. Grill for 15 to 20 minutes or until fish easily flakes with a fork (145 degrees). Top each portion with citrus butter. Season to taste with salt and pepper and garnish with green onions, if desired. Serves 4.

Per serving: 340 calories; 23 grams protein; 1 gram carbohydrates; 27 grams fat; 95 milligrams cholesterol; 160 milligrams sodium.

Charlyn Fargo is a registered dietitian at Hy-Vee in Springfield, Illinois, and the media representative for the Illinois Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. For comments or questions, contact her at [email protected] or follow her on Twitter @NutritionRD. To find out more about Charlyn Fargo and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate website at www.creators.com.

Photo credit: at Pixabay

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