3. Get moving.
In addition to lowering LDL "bad" cholesterol, regular physical activity can raise HDL "good" cholesterol by up to 10%. The benefits come even with moderate exercise, such as brisk walking.
Robert Harrington, MD, professor of medicine at Duke University School of Medicine in Durham, N.C., urges his patients to go for a 45-minute walk after supper.
Peeke tells WebMD, "I ask people to get a pedometer and aim for 10,000 steps a day. If you work at a desk, get up and walk around for five minutes every hour."
Whatever form your exercise takes, the key is to do it with regularity. "Some experts recommend seven days a week, although I think five days is more realistic," Richman says.
4. Avoid saturated fat.
Doctors used to think that the key to lowering high cholesterol was to cut back on eggs and other cholesterol-rich foods. But now it's clear that dietary cholesterol isn't the main culprit. "Eggs don't do all that much [to raise cholesterol]," Beckerman says. "You don't want to be throwing down six eggs a day, but recent data suggest that it's really saturated fat" that causes increases in cholesterol. And if you cooked your eggs in a slab of butter, don't overlook the fat in the butter.
"One of the first things to do when you're trying to lower your cholesterol level is to take saturated fat down a few notches," says Elaine Magee, MPH, RD, the author of several nutrition books, including the forthcoming Tell Me What to Eat If I Have Heart Disease. "The second thing to do is to start eating more 'smart' fats," Magee says. She recommends substituting canola oil or olive oil for vegetable oil, butter, stick margarine, lard, or shortening while cutting back on meat and eating more fish.
5. Eat more fiber.
Fruits and vegetables, including whole grains, are good sources not only of heart-healthy antioxidants but also cholesterol-lowering dietary fiber. Soluble fiber, in particular, can help lower cholesterol. Beckerman says it "acts like a sponge to absorb cholesterol" in the digestive tract. Good sources of soluble fiber include dried beans, oats, and barley, as well as fiber products containing psyllium.
6. Go fish.
Fish and fish oil are chockablock with cholesterol-lowering omega-3 fatty acids. "Fish oil supplements can have a profound effect on cholesterol and triglycerides," Beckerman says. "There's a lot of scientific evidence to support their use." Fish oil is considered to be quite safe, but check with your doctor first if you are taking an anti-clotting medication.
Magee recommends eating fish two or three times a week. "Salmon is great, as it has lots of omega-3s," she says. But even canned tuna has omega-3s, and it's more consumer-friendly. The American Heart Association also recommends fish as the preferable source of omega-3s, but fish oil capsule supplements can be considered after consultation with your physician. Plant sources of omega-3s include soybeans, canola, flaxseeds, walnuts, and their oils, but they don't provide the same omega-3s as fish. The biggest heart benefits have been linked to omega-3s found in fish.