May 28, 2024

5 Strategies to Manage Cholesterol Levels from a Registered Dietitian

A strong, healthy heart starts with proper nutrition and lifestyle habits. Whether you’ve been recently diagnosed with high cholesterol levels or if you’re looking to prevent them in the future, here are 5 dietitian-approved nutrition and lifestyle strategies to start implementing into your routine.

But first, what is cholesterol? 

Cholesterol is a type of fat that is found in the blood. It’s naturally produced by the body, but can be increased through our diet. By understanding the different types of cholesterol and taking steps to manage them, you can significantly reduce your risk of heart disease. 

In an appointment with your doctor or dietitian, your provider will review these two readings (amongst others) from your most recent lab report:

  • LDL cholesterol. Referred to as the ‘bad’ or ‘lousy’ cholesterol, this type of cholesterol  sticks to the artery walls in the form of plaque which can block blood flow to the heart and brain. Elevated LDL levels can increase risk for heart attack or stroke.
  • HDL cholesterol. Considered to be ‘good’ cholesterol, this type of cholesterol is protective for the heart. It helps to remove excess cholesterol from the body.

What are my treatment options?

It’s important to work alongside your doctor and dietitian to determine the appropriate tools for treatment that will reduce the risk of heart attack or stroke. Treatment for high cholesterol includes diet and lifestyle changes and can also involve medications called statins. Lifestyle management strategies may look like creating sustainable nutrition habits in support of heart health, while also increasing physical activity, reducing alcohol intake, and quitting smoking. 

What nutrition and lifestyle changes can I start making today?

  1. Reduce your intake of saturated fats.

It’s important to note that we can include moderate amounts of saturated fats in a balanced diet. However, consuming excess saturated fat can increase total and LDL cholesterol. 

Saturated fats are commonly found in:

  • High fat cuts of meat (steaks, ground beef, pork, sausages)
  • Full-fat dairy products 
  • Fats and oils: butter, lard, coconut oil, palm oil
  • Highly processed and prepared foods
  • Snack foods and chocolate 

Strategies to reduce saturated fats in your day-to-day diet can include:

  • Swapping ground beef for ground turkey or chicken more often
  • Choosing low-fat dairy products like 0-2% yogurts and milks, and cheeses with less than 20% milk fat
  • Cook most meals at home, and opt for take-out or restaurant foods less often

  1. Diversify the types of protein within your diet.

It’s important to include a variety of protein sources in your diet. Research has shown that adding plant-based proteins to our diet like beans, lentils, nuts, seeds, tofu, and tempeh may improve cholesterol levels. 

Including more plant-based protein sources into your diet can look like adding more vegetarian meals into your weekly rotation. That said, you can still reap the benefits of plant-based protein sources by incorporating them alongside lean animal proteins in meals you already enjoy. For example, try adding brown lentils to your meat-based bolognese sauce, or add black beans and chicken into taco bowls.

Other strategies to include more plant based proteins into your diet include:

  • Swapping white pasta for chickpea or lentil pasta 
  • Incorporate roasted chickpeas or edamame beans into snacks
  • Add tofu and edamame beans into a stir-fry

  1. Include foods that are rich in soluble fibre.

There are two types of fibre: soluble and insoluble. Both types of fibre are essential for our health (including maintaining optimal digestion), but soluble fibre specifically may help reduce LDL cholesterol levels. When increasing your soluble fibre intake, it’s important to do so gradually while also increasing your water intake to avoid discomfort or bloating.

Foods that are high in soluble fibre include:

  • Beans: Black beans, kidney beans, chickpeas
  • Fresh or frozen vegetables: Brussel sprouts, broccoli, sweet potatoes 
  • Fresh or frozen fruits: Avocados, pears, apples 
  • Seeds: Ground flax, chia seeds
  • Whole grains: Oats, barley 

Strategies to include more soluble fibre into your diet can look like:

  • Adding ground flax or chia seeds to a Greek Yogurt parfait
  • Roasting broccoli and brussel sprouts on a sheet pan as a side dish for dinner
  • Having oatmeal or preparing overnight oats for your morning breakfast

  1. Include unsaturated fats in your diet. 

Unsaturated fats, like mono and polyunsaturated fats, are considered to be heart-healthy fats. Regular, moderate intake of monounsaturated fats have been shown to improve blood cholesterol levels. You can find monounsaturated fats in nuts, nut butters, seeds, avocados, as well as olive, canola, and peanut oils.

Polyunsaturated fats can help lower LDL levels. Omega-3’s, a specific type of polyunsaturated fat, may help reduce triglycerides while also reducing blood pressure and risk of blood clots. They are found in red fatty fish like salmon, herring, mackerel, sardines and trout, and other plant-based sources like walnuts, flax, chia, and hemp seeds. 

  1. Be mindful of your alcohol intake and stop smoking.

Alcohol can increase total and LDL cholesterol levels, while also increasing triglyceride levels. A reduction in alcohol intake is associated with decreased risk for heart attack or stroke. Similarly, smoking cessation is vital for maintaining a healthy heart. Smoking reduces levels of protective HDL cholesterol found in the blood. 

Should I work with a Dietitian to manage my cholesterol levels?

Nutrition is an essential part of the treatment plan for someone with high cholesterol levels, or even for those looking for practical strategies to prevent heart disease in the future. A Registered Dietitian can provide you with the education and support required to implement dietary changes successfully in order to improve your cholesterol levels. 

Book an appointment with our Registered Dietitian today