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You may have heard about the importance of your cholesterol levels from your doctor if you've gotten blood work done, but what is exactly is it?

Cholesterol is a waxy substance that is essential for our body to have to attain certain vitamins and hormones, and to build cells. Therefore, it is not necessarily bad, but too much can have a negative impact on our heart health. Your liver makes all the cholesterol your body needs to function properly, however individuals get additional dietary cholesterol from animal products such as meat, dairy products, and poultry. There are two types of cholesterol: LDL which is the "bad cholesterol", and HDL which is the "good cholesterol".

Now that you know a little about what cholesterol is, you may be wondering why it's so important for your health that the doctor brings it up?

High cholesterol can lead to cardiovascular disease, heart attacks, and strokes. Too much LDL cholesterol or not adequate enough HDL cholesterol can cause cholesterol to build up in the arteries that support the heart and brain. It can also join with other substances in the body, which causes narrowing of the arteries possibly resulting in blood clots.

Now that you have an understanding of what cholesterol is and why it's important, let's discuss some tips to support with healthy cholesterol levels.

  • Check your cholesterol levels

  • Limit your red meat intake (some other alternatives include: fish, tofu, tempeh, salmon, nuts, seeds, beans, edamame, chicken, turkey bacon, veggie or turkey burger, etc.)

  • Choose skim, low-fat, or fat-free dairy products (nutritional yeast is also a great cheese substitute that is heart healthy and packed with nutrients)

  • Eat more fruits and veggies (berries, apples, grapes, oranges, avocado, dark leafy greens, asparagus, broccoli, brussels sprouts, and artichokes are some great options)

  • Consume more whole grains such as: oats, barley, quinoa, brown rice, etc.

  • Eat more healthy fats such as: avocado, olives, nuts, seeds, fish, olive oil, avocado oil, etc.

  • Limit fried foods (baked, roasted, grilled, broiled, and air fried are some healthier alternatives)

  • Reduce processed and sugary foods and beverages (shopping the outer aisles of the grocery, consuming more whole foods and unsweetened beverages, and reading the nutrition label can support you with reducing your processed foods)

  • Exercise frequently

  • Quit smoking

  • Enjoy some dark chocolate in moderation

  • Sip on some unsweetened green or black tea

  • Cook some more nutritious meatless meals

  • Add some garlic to your dishes (this has been linked to keeping blood vessels flexible)

  • Use the plate method to support with eating a balanced meal with cholesterol friendly foods. The plate method is making 1/2 your plate fruits and veggies, 1/4 your plate protein, and 1/4 your plate carbs. For example: A strawberry spinach salad with avocado and a balsamic vinaigrette dressing, salmon, and quinoa would be a balanced meal with cholesterol friendly foods.

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