Heart Health

12 Natural Ways To Lower Your Cholesterol

A few evidence-backed suggestions to help keep those numbers healthy.

by Lauryn Higgins
A man chopping vegetables at home.

Cholesterol is essential for good health. It’s a building block for cells, keeps your metabolism operating efficiently, and is essential for the creation of vitamins and hormones. But like anything, too much cholesterol in your diet can be detrimental. With high cholesterol, fatty deposits can develop in your blood vessels, making it difficult for blood to flow through your arteries. And in some cases, these deposits can even break and form clots.

Nearly 25 million adults in the United States have high cholesterol levels, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, with 10% of all men in the U.S. having elevated levels. Healthy levels can vary for each individual, but for men a good range is anywhere between 200- 239 md/dL (milligrams per deciliter). If those levels get above 240 md/dL, your risk of cardiovascular disease, heart attack, and stroke increase significantly.

There are two types of cholesterol: LDL and HDL. LDL is often referred to as ‘bad cholesterol’ because it moves cholesterol to your arteries, where clogs can form, and too much can lead to a buildup of plaque. HDL is known as ‘good cholesterol’ because it works by removing the LDL cholesterol from your body.

For most men, consuming a balanced diet and exercising regularly can keep cholesterol levels fairly low. But if you have a family history of high cholesterol, smoke regularly, or are older than 55, you’re at a greater risk. And because high cholesterol has no symptoms, many men don’t even know they’re struggling with it. Luckily, a simple blood test can determine your levels.

If you have high cholesterol or are determined to keep your levels from getting too high, there are practical, evidence-backed lifestyle changes you can incorporate into your life.

1. Get 150 Minutes of Exercise Per Week

According to the American Heart Association, 150 minutes of moderately intense aerobic exercise per week (roughly 20 minutes a day) is enough to lower cholesterol and reduce high blood pressure. And you don’t need a gym membership to get in a good, quick sweat. Try going for a walk or run on your lunch break or doing a quick circuit of pushups and squats before your morning cup of coffee.

If you have access to a bike and don’t work too far from home, one study showed that people who cycled to work were less likely to have high cholesterol than individuals who didn’t. The authors also noted that cycling to work led to a lower risk of several cardiovascular health issues.

2. Eat Less Red Meat and Pork

A diet high in red meat and pork is a diet high in saturated and trans fat, and that can raise LDL cholesterol levels in your blood. Although all fish contain some cholesterol, many are loaded with Omega-3 fatty acids, which are essential dietary fats that can actually help you maintain healthy cholesterol levels by lowering your triglyceride levels. Omega-3 fatty acids also have other heart-healthy benefits, including reducing blood pressure. So, instead of ordering a steak or pork chop next time you’re out to dinner, opt for the fresh catch of the day or a nice piece of grilled salmon or tuna.

3. Adopt A Plant-Based Diet (Or At Least Do Meatless Monday)

We know that switching out red meat and pork for fish can help lower your cholesterol, but removing animal protein from your diet all together, even one day a week, can help lower those levels even more.

Research shows that people who follow a vegetarian or vegan diet, compared to those who consume a diet that includes red meat, chicken, and pork, have lower LDL cholesterol levels and an overall lower risk for cardiovascular disease.

Experts recommend getting plant-based protein from sources like beans, lentils, nuts, dark leafy greens, tofu, and tempeh.

4. Quit Smoking Cigarettes

Smoking isn’t just bad for your lungs; it can also wreak havoc on your cholesterol. Smoking damages the walls of your arteries and cholesterol can collect in those damaged areas, thickening and worsening over time. Because smoking affects your blood pressure, your risk for cardiovascular disease and stroke also increases with every cigarette you smoke.

Luckily, studies have shown that within 20 minutes of quitting, your blood pressure and heart rate recover from the cigarette-induced spike. Within three months of quitting, your blood circulation and lung function begin to improve. And within a year of quitting, your risk of heart disease is half that of a smoker.

5. Cut Down On Butter And Margarine

There might be nothing better in life than gliding a knob of butter on a stack of hot pancakes, or running your tub of popcorn under the butter machine at the movie theater. But all that butter is bad for your cholesterol and overall heart health.

Butter contains saturated and trans fats, both of which may increase LDL cholesterol levels in your body. Opting for a grass-fed butter or unsalted butter is your healthiest option if you’re still wanting that rich, creamy taste. But if you’re cooking meat, sautéing veggies, or scrambling eggs, try switching your butter for olive, sunflower seed, avocado, or coconut oil. These oils can help lower LDL cholesterol levels, raise HDL levels, and each oil has its own unique flavor profile that can enhance different types of cooking and recipes.

6. Eat More Nuts

Having a healthy snack nearby when hunger strikes is an easy way to avoid foods that are high in calories, sugar, salt, or saturated fats. Nuts are a great option to keep around. Because all nuts contain fiber, which helps to significantly lower cholesterol levels, you can’t go wrong with a handful of your favorite kind.

But if you’re looking for an extra boost of cholesterol-lowering benefits, reach for walnuts. Like fish, walnuts have high levels of Omega-3 fatty acids, which can lower LDL cholesterol levels.

7. Eat Fewer Fried Foods

Oils commonly used for deep frying are rich in saturated fats. And oftentimes frying food uses high temperatures that can change the structure of its nutrients, such as proteins, vitamins, and antioxidants. Because of this, fried foods can elevate your cholesterol levels and put you at greater risk of coronary heart disease.

Instead of frying, focus on broiling, boiling, grilling, sautéing, or poaching your food. And if you still can’t kick the habit, air fryers are a great tool to get that deep-fried crunch on virtually anything — without the excess oil.

8. Relax For 30 Minutes A Day

Everyone has stress, whether it be from work, family, finances, or simply the day-to-day tasks that pile up. When you’re feeling strained, your body releases adrenaline and cortisol, and if stress is ongoing, these hormone levels can put a dangerous strain on your heart and other parts of your body. High levels of cortisol from chronic stress can cause high blood cholesterol, along with other heart disease risks.

Although it’s easier said than done, taking 30 minutes a day to relax and not work on accomplishing any tasks can help lower your cholesterol, according to a study from the Center for Clinical Pharmacology at the University of Pittsburgh.

If you’re someone who can’t sit still, try meditating for those 30 minutes. People who meditate have a lower risk of high cholesterol, hypertension, type 2 diabetes, strokes, and heart attacks.

9. Spice Up Your Diet

Just because you’re using less butter and avoiding fried foods doesn’t mean you have to give up on flavor. In fact, adding spices such as garlic, cinnamon, ginger, black pepper, lemon juice, and coriander to your food can improve your cholesterol. (Just don’t put them all in the same dish.)

One study found that eating a half to one clove of garlic and lemon juice each day can lower cholesterol by up to 9%. So, grab some lean chicken breasts and marinade them in fresh lemon juice, garlic, and black pepper for a quick and easy weeknight meal.

As a bonus, adding extra seasoning to your food also reduces your appetite, so it’s easier to drop extra weight, which can also help lower your cholesterol.

10. Laugh It Up

Laughing stimulates circulation and aids muscle relaxation, both of which can reduce some of the physical symptoms of stress, which we know raise cholesterol levels. Laughter also increases cardiac output, which promotes heart health and boosts serotonin levels. One study by researchers in Japan found that men who laughed infrequently had higher rates of cholesterol than men who laughed regularly.

11. Eat More Fiber

Fiber helps regulate the body’s digestion, keeps your gut healthy, and promotes regular bowel movements. Research has also shown that a diet high in soluble fiber rich foods, such as oats, beans, Brussel sprouts, apples, and pears can reduce the absorption of cholesterol into your bloodstream. Fiber binds to the small intestine, then attaches to cholesterol particles, preventing them from entering your bloodstream and traveling to other parts of the body. The cholesterol instead exits the body as stool.

12. Drink Less Alcohol

A cold beer or cocktail after a long week may not hurt your cholesterol levels terribly, but too much alcohol can put you at risk. Much of the alcohol that flows into your system finds its way to your liver, where it breaks down and reconstructs as cholesterol and triglycerides. So, the more you drink, the more your levels of cholesterol and triglycerides rise, and total cholesterol levels can increase with heavy alcohol intake. As with most things in life, moderation is key.