According to 2019 statistics, ischemic heart disease and stroke are the leading causes of death. Among the top 10 is diabetes, which is prevalent in Asia, along with other non-communicable diseases.
There are many diseases that are associated with high levels of cholesterol. All of these mortalities can be reduced by improving cholesterol levels and with some lifestyle modifications without depending on prescription drugs. This article tackles diets and lifestyle modifications to manage cholesterol-related problems.
The bulk of the Mediterranean diet contains fruits, vegetables, beans, whole grains, seeds, and olive oil as main sources of carbohydrates and fat. These are the sources of the low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol or the “good cholesterol”. Only a few meals of the week include fish, poultry, and other dairy products which are mostly high-density lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol or the “bad cholesterol”. Red meat should be reserved for special occasions and only low to moderate consumption of wine is acceptable. This diet reduces the risk of stroke and overall cardiovascular mortality.
Similar to the Mediterranean diet, the DASH (“Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension”) diet is rich in fruits, vegetables, and fibre. It is low in dairy, animal proteins, and saturated fats. The protein source is mostly plant-based, including legumes and nuts. The DASH diet focuses on the daily portioning of meals, while the Mediterranean diet is based on the frequency of consumption of certain food.
The DASH diet decreases total cholesterol levels in healthy individuals more than in a diet rich in fruits and vegetables alone. In diabetic adults, it decreased LDL cholesterol levels and increased HDL cholesterol levels. However, results are more promising when it is combined with other options such as low-sodium diets or protein-replacement diets.
Vegetarian, vegan, Ovo vegetarian, Lacto vegetarian, and Lacto-Ovo vegetarian are some of the variations of a meat-restricted diet. The following are some basic definitions:
- Vegans avoid meat and animal flesh, as well as animal by-products and derivatives
- Vegetarians avoid meat or animal flesh only
- Vegetarian variations:
- Ovo Vegetarians avoid all animal derivatives except eggs
- Lacto-ovo vegetarians avoid animal flesh but consume eggs and dairy products
A meat-restricted diet helps reduce total cholesterol. When combined with other cholesterol-lowering food such as plant stanols, soluble fibres, nuts, and soy protein, it showed higher efficacy.
Other Diet Modifications
Totally altering one’s diet may be drastic, costly, time-consuming, and unforgiving. In general, experts advise a low-carbohydrate and low-trans fat (common in fast food/processed food) diet. This sounds like a broad category but these are the recommended specific little changes that can be incorporated into your daily life which still have an impact on cholesterol management:
- Eating soy-based products (tofu or tempeh) as an alternative meat
- Choosing lean meat, poultry, or fish over red meat
- High-fiber and whole-grain products over refined-grain products
- Substituting tea, carbonated water, or plain water for soft drinks and sugar-sweetened fruit juices
There is no single exercise prescription that is applicable to all adults; it should be individualized according to the person’s baseline capabilities especially in terms of the exercise program, intensity, frequency, and duration. However, the most studied exercise regimen that significantly reduces cholesterol levels is dynamic aerobic exercise. This type of exercise makes use of larger muscle groups that greatly influence the cardiovascular system. Examples include:
- Jogging or brisk walking
- Zumba dancing
- Jumping rope
Choosing a healthier lifestyle will benefit anyone at any age and regardless of their health status. Start today and help a loved one by sharing this article.