Medically Approved

Little ways to improve cholesterol  

Man water bottle and towel, after excercising

These smart lifestyle changes could bring your numbers down to healthier levels. 

Brierley Horton

By Brierley Horton

If you have high cholesterol, what you eat — and don’t eat — really matters. And that’s true even if you’re taking cholesterol-lowering statins. 

Eating a healthy diet — rich in whole grains, legumes, fish, fruits and vegetables — is important. So is regular exercise. 

But there are also other ways you can improve your cholesterol. These steps may help any cholesterol-lowering medications you’re taking work better, too. Here are 5 lifestyle tips to try. 

(Are you taking atorvastatin, lovastatin, pravastatin or simvastatin for high cholesterol? Then don’t forget to grab your free prescription discount card today to save up to 80% at the pharmacy.) 

1. Up your soluble fiber 

Soluble fiber is the kind that dissolves in water. (The insoluble type is often called dietary fiber, or “roughage.”) Soluble fiber is important because it helps carry cholesterol through — and out of — your digestive tract.  

Try adding 5 to 10 grams of soluble fiber to your daily diet. Research shows that it may lower both total cholesterol and “bad” LDL cholesterol by up to 11 points. 

Food such as oatmeal, beans, whole grains, apples, citrus fruits, peas and sweet potatoes have soluble fiber. Every half cup serving of these foods delivers a few grams of fiber. 

2. Cut back on saturated fats 

Saturated fats are found mostly in full-fat dairy and red meat. 

“There has been much controversy and confusion around saturated fat,” says Donna K. Arnett, PhD. She’s a former president of the American Heart Association. She’s also executive vice president and provost at the University of South Carolina. 

Some research has shown that saturated fat can bump up cholesterol levels. Other studies have not found a link. 

But the American College of Cardiology suggests replacing saturated fats with healthier fat sources. These include plant-based fats from nuts, seeds and olives, as well as oils that come from them, such as extra-virgin olive oil. 

There’s some evidence that cutting saturated fat to less than 7% of your daily calories may lower LDL cholesterol by up to 10%. (That’s about 140 calories, or 15 grams a day, as part of a 2,000-calorie diet.)  

Recommended reading: Have high cholesterol? Statins aren’t the only option. 

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3. Add avocados to your meals 

In a recent large study, eating avocados daily improved both total cholesterol and LDL cholesterol. That’s even if the rest of your eating habits are only so-so.  

Avocados are higher in fat and calories than many other fruits and veggies. Still, the research found that they didn’t increase weight gain or waist circumference. 

4. Drink less alcohol 

“There is much debate over alcohol,” says Dr. Arnett. A review study published in The BMJ showed that it can raise “good” HDL cholesterol. But it didn’t lower total cholesterol, LDL levels or triglycerides. 

It may depend on how much you drink, though. “While a modest intake of alcohol can raise HDL cholesterol, heavy drinking can increase LDL cholesterol and triglycerides. That’s because both lipids and alcohol use the same organ, namely the liver,” explains Dr. Arnett. 

So cap your drinks at 1 a day if you’re a woman or 2 a day if you’re a man. 

5. Up your exercise intensity 

This is a not a diet-related tip, but it’s a worthy one. That’s because there’s a specific kind of workout that has been shown to lower cholesterol. It’s called high-intensity interval training (HIIT). HIIT alternates short bursts of intense activity with easier ones. 

Recent research suggests that moderate workouts may also improve bad cholesterol. But HIIT still seems best for boosting HDL levels. 

The bottom line: No matter what your cholesterol level, you can benefit from these changes to your diet and from adding more intense exercise. And if you’re taking a statin, these changes can help your medication work better. 

Download the Optum Perks prescription coupon mobile app today to find discounts and compare costs at local pharmacies. 


Additional sources:
Insights into a heart-healthy diet: American College of Cardiology 
Saturated fat fact sheet: American Heart Association  
Adding soluble fiber to your diet: National Lipid Association 
Alcohol and cholesterol: The BMJ (2011). “Effect of alcohol consumption on biological markers associated with risk of coronary heart disease”