Did you know that 28 percent of Americans over the age of 40 are taking cholesterol-lowering medication (statins)? With numbers so high, it’s clear that cholesterol is indeed a pressing issue. Although statins can go a long way to reduce cholesterol, they could perform way better if patients would also change their diets. Simply put, people have so much faith in their medications that they continue to eat poorly, which for many is the cause of their high cholesterol in the first place. As a result, they don’t experience the dramatic drop in cholesterol levels they expect.
Although medications do help greatly, they aren’t miracles. So if you are on statins but haven’t been seeing the numbers drop as much as you like, follow these diet tips to help optimize your cholesterol.
1. Try Mediterranean diet: The Mediterranean diet is still hailed for its health benefits. This style of eating, which promotes olive oil, fish, and fruits and vegetables, can work wonders on heart health – cholesterol included. One study found that sticking closely to the Mediterranean diet plan can reduce the risk of heart disease by 30 percent.
2. Lower your carbohydrates: Most people believe that low fat is the way to go, but when it comes to addressing the cholesterol issue, lowering carbohydrates is more effective. Individuals who embark on a low fat diet tend to opt for unhealthy carbohydrates and sugars, which promote weight gain, diabetes, and, of course, cholesterol. Studies have shown that a low carbohydrate diet with fat was more successful at lowering cholesterol, compared to a low fat diet with carbohydrates.
3. Avoid added sugars: As mentioned, added sugar is truly the enemy of cholesterol health, so it’s best to avoid processed foods that contain it. One study found consuming high amounts of added sugar could triple a person’s risk of low good cholesterol, allowing bad cholesterol to rise.
4. Avoid grapefruit: It may seem odd, but eating grapefruit while taking your statin medication could turn helpful statins into harmful ones. Grapefruits contain furanocoumarins, which affect the way statins are broken down and used by the body, greatly increasing the risk of toxicity. So if you’re on statins, avoid grapefruits. But if you aren’t taking any statin medications and want to lower cholesterol, then grapefruit is a win.
5. Never skip breakfast: A Harvard study found that skipping breakfast could raise cholesterol levels, and men who regularly skipped breakfast had a 27 percent higher risk of heart attack or death by heart disease, compared to those who did not skip their morning meal. And don’t be scared of eggs, much research has come out to suggest that having an egg daily doesn’t contribute to high cholesterol.
6. Enjoy a glass of wine: One – okay, maybe two glasses of wine, TOPS – is good for reducing cholesterol, but downing a bottle is not. Wine in moderation can have positive effects on cholesterol, but not all alcohol offers such benefits. Stick to wine, and avoid margaritas and other sugary varieties.
7. Cut out trans fats: Some fats are bad, case in point, trans fats. There are many fats that are quite beneficial for cholesterol, but trans fats are not among them. The good news is, the FDA has put a ban on trans fats, so you may not have to worry about them as much anymore. In the meantime, continue to read labels for trans fat content.
8. Enjoy dark chocolate: Numerous studies have shown that consumption of dark chocolate is associated with good heart health thanks to the flavonoids and antioxidants in this cardio-friendly dessert.
9. It’s okay to have cheese: A Danish study found that eating five ounces of cheese did not increase cholesterol levels. Moderation is the key, so enjoy some full fat cheese (yes, you can skip that fat-free variety), but no greater than an ounce to keep your calorie count in a good shape.
If you haven’t been quite successful in lowering your cholesterol on statins alone, try to make any of these dietary changes and finally start on your health journey to improvement.