High cholesterol—especially high levels of LDL, or bad cholesterol—increases your risk for heart disease. Having low levels of HDL, or good cholesterol, can also greatly increase that risk.
But there’s good news: You have the power to change your cholesterol numbers. All you need is a little TLC.
To help you meet your cholesterol-reduction goals, the National Institutes of Health has devised the Therapeutic Lifestyle Changes (TLC) plan. Ideal total cholesterol is considered anything under 200 mg/dL. Breaking those numbers down even further, your ideal HDL should be 60 mg/dL or higher. LDL should be less than 100 mg/dL.
The TLC plan can help you reach those cholesterol goals with the following three steps:
1. Eat a heart-healthy diet. TLC specifically calls for you to have:
- Less than 7 percent of your daily calories from saturated fat. For example, if you consume 2,000 calories a day, your daily saturated fat intake should be no more than 13 grams.
- Less than 200 mg of cholesterol daily.
- 25 percent to 35 percent of daily calories from total fat (including saturated fat).
- 2 grams a day of plant stanols or sterols, found in small amounts in plant foods such as fruits, vegetables, nuts and seeds, and some salad dressings and margarines.
- 10–25 grams daily of soluble fiber, found in oatmeal, fruits and beans.
2. Get active. Regular physical activity helps you manage your weight, which can lower cholesterol. Keep these exercise tips in mind:
- Try to get at least 30 minutes of moderate-intensity activity—brisk walking, gardening and house cleaning—on most, if not all, days. (Talk with your healthcare provider first if you have a health condition.)
- Break up your exercise sessions into 10-minute intervals if you’re pressed for time or can’t handle longer times.
- Step up the pace as you get stronger.
3. Lose weight. By following the first two parts of the program, you’re well on your way to shedding excess pounds. Consider, too, the following:
- Checking with your doctor to determine what your healthy weight is. A BMI of 25 or higher and a waist measurement of 35 inches or more for women and 40 inches or more for men equals excess weight.
- Losing weight gradually, about one to two pounds a week, is safest.
- Watching your fat intake is important, but you need to count calories, too. Fat-free or low-fat food doesn’t necessarily equal fewer calories.
When cholesterol levels just won’t budge, you may need cholesterol-lowering medicine to supplement your new heart-healthy habits.