5 Easy Ways to Cut Your Cholesterol

Back to school. Back to work. It’s time to move on from double scoop ice cream cones and hot dogs on the grill. September starts the unofficial new year for many of us, which means it’s resolution time. And since September is Cholesterol Awareness Month, it’s a good time to resolve to get heart healthy.

Why worry about getting heart healthy? According to a recent report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, more than 200,000 deaths from heart disease in 2010 could have been prevented! In other words, more than one quarter of all the people who died from heart disease that year could have lived if only they had had better treatment or improved diet and exercise.

Better treatment is too big a topic for me to address here, but diet and exercise – that I can do! I’ve been teaching heart healthy nutrition for years now and I find that one thing has remained the same; most people want to get heart healthy but the job seems overwhelming. On that note, here are 5 easy ways to reduce your cholesterol and start getting heart healthy today.

  1. Eat weeds. Common, everyday weeds like purslane, dandelion, and wild fennel contain high levels of Omega-3 fatty acids as well as anti-oxidants and fiber. These all help reduce cholesterol levels by either escorting cholesterol right out of your system or by cutting inflammation. Cholesterol loves to hang out in inflamed arteries. Less inflammation means less cholesterol “loitering.” Lightly steam these free-for-the-asking greens and dress with olive oil and lemon juice, or chop and add to a salad, or toss in a stir-fry.
  2. Variety, variety, variety. I have this theory that we eat too much at one time (pasta anyone?) because subconsciously we are trying to get a variety of flavors. So instead of taking one super large serving of spaghetti and meatballs, add some different textures and flavors to the plate. For example, serve small serving of spaghetti and meatballs along with a few Greek olives, a sprinkling of pungent Parmesan, some crisp slices of cucumber or lightly steamed broccoli, and some fresh melon or pear – all on the same plate. It’s the perfect combination of salty (Parmesan), bitter (vegetable), sour (olives), umami (tomato sauce and meatballs) and sweet (fruit). I guarantee that once you start eating like this you will lose weight, which almost always leads to a lower cholesterol level.
  3. Serve from a communal plate. I stumbled upon this tip by happenstance. Last year I started teaching a Mediterranean appetizers class. I like to make sure that the classes are going to work, so beforehand I make all the recipes at home. So we had numerous nights where we ate appetizers for dinner. Now I do it on purpose, and my husband says it’s his favorite way to dine. Using tip #2, pull together a plate of appetizers or meze like hummus and organic blue chips, small squares of Feta, dried dates, maybe some stuffed phyllo cups or hard boiled eggs, sautéed zucchini, etc. Serve it along with individual plates and a glass of wine. Eating this way leads to more conversation and a slower, more pleasant mealtime. It also leads to eating less overall and more camaraderie. Study after study has shown that more social contact leads to less stress and less stress leads to lower cholesterol. Plus, eating like this lends itself to eating whole foods or those cooked from scratch at home, which are no doubt lower in saturated fat – also leading to lower cholesterol levels.
  4. Cut back on meat. If you are a meat lover, commit to one meatless meal each week. Use that meal to explore alternative proteins like fish, beans, and nuts. If you already eat one meatless meal each week, increase it to two. Or try the cookbook author Mark Bittman’s approach and eat vegan until dinnertime. Either way, cutting back on the saturated fat found in meat will help lower cholesterol levels.
  5. Move. I hate exercise. While my husband likes to commune with nature by climbing a mountain, I am very happy to get my solace sitting on a tropical beach thank you very much. Jogging? Uh….no. Sweating to the oldies at the gym? Yuck. Water skiing? Tennis? Pick-up basketball? No, no and no. But it’s true that if you don’t use it, you lose it. So it’s not just important, it’s imperative that we move. The key is to find something that fits into your schedule and is enjoyable – for you. It doesn’t have to be a scheduled, sanctioned event. Walk to the local store. Vacuum the house more often. Work in the garden. Go shopping! (It’s amazing how many steps you take walking around the mall.) Take a yoga class. Take the stairs instead of the elevator. Do more and more each week. Movement helps your heart stay strong and keeps cholesterol from taking up residence in your arteries.

Watch for Cholesterol Awareness tips all month, as we work on getting heart healthy.

Have you lowered your cholesterol? How did you do it?

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About the Author

Renee Pottle, an author and heart-healthy educator, loves to explore and write about the Mediterranean Diet. She blogs at SeedToPantry.com and HestiasKitchen.com.

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