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How to Lower Your Cholesterol

Cut back on saturated fat, eliminate trans fat and up the monounsaturated and polyunsaturated. Confused? Don't worry, we've done the translation for you. Eating right and lowering your cholesterol has never been easier.

By Norine Dworkin-McDaniel

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A significant portion of your cholesterol level reflects the kind of fat you eat. Most of us should keep our total fat intake to 70 grams or less. Take a close look at which fats are best and which should be rationed.

Good Fats: Polyunsaturated and Monounsaturated Fats

The majority of the fat you eat should be polyunsaturated, which can lower your cholesterol by 19 percent and LDL (bad cholesterol) by about 22 percent. Replacing saturated fats with monounsaturated fats can reduce total cholesterol by 12 percent and LDL by 15 percent.

Daily Dose: 32g to 52g. Have peanut butter (2 tablespoons) on toast for breakfast (14g), salad tossed with 1 tablespoon olive oil for lunch (12g) and a salmon burger for dinner (11g).

Where to Find Polyunsaturated Fats: salmon, tuna, mackerel, sardines, herring, trout, shellfish, walnuts, flaxseed, sunflower seeds and some vegetable oils (soybean, corn, sunflower, safflower)

Where to Find Monounsaturated Fats: avocados, peanut butter and some vegetable oils (olive, canola, peanut, sesame, sunflower)

Tip: Swap out the bad fats swap in healthy fats, like those found in peanut butter, and you'll lower your overall cholesterol.

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Bad Fats: Saturated Fats

The more saturated fat in your diet, the higher your cholesterol will be.

Daily Dose: Less than 16g. That's going to add up fast: 1 cup of ice cream (15g), one Quarter Pounder (14g).

Common culprits: red meats, full-fat dairy foods and some vegetable oils (palm, coconut)

Tip: Full-fat dairy products and red meats should play a very small role in your diet.

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The Worst Fats: Trans Fats

Trans fats are the worst offenders when it comes to cholesterol. They lower HDL (good) and boost total and LDL. For every 2 percent increase in calories from trans fats that you eat, your heart disease risk climbs 23 percent.

Daily Dose: Less than 2g. Two toaster pastries (2g) or 1 cup of buttered microwave popcorn (3g) already push you over the limit. It's best to avoid trans fats.

Common Culprits: many fried foods and packaged items (chips, cookies, crackers, breads, baked goods, dessert toppings, margarine). Foods labeled "0 grams trans fat" can contain up to 0.5g per serving—and most people eat more than one serving—if the words "partially hydrogenated oil" or "shortening" are on the ingredient list.

Tip: Keep packaged foods and baked goods to a minimum.

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How to Raise Your HDL

HDL is like a scrubby sponge, scouring bad LDL from arteries. When HDL is low, it's a potent marker for heart disease and stroke. These six steps can help nudge HDL into the healthy range (above 60).

Quit Smoking: Smoking lowers HDL by an average of 4 mg/dl.

Get Moving: At least 30 minutes of aerobic exercise most days of the week can increase your HDL by 6 to 9 percent.

Eat a Healthy Diet: Swap good fats for bad fats to lower your LDL and raise your HDL levels.

Slim Down: If you're overweight, every 7 pounds you lose raises your HDL by 1 mg/dl.

Drink a Glass of Red Wine: A Danish study found that HDL levels were up to 16 percent higher in red wine drinkers.

Ask Your Doctor About Medication: Prescription niacin and fibrates along with fish oil supplements and statin medications may also improve your cholesterol.

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Statins: Cholesterol-Lowering Medication

Some 11 million Americans take statins to control their cholesterol. As the recommendation for healthy levels moves further downward, more people, even kids, are likely to be getting prescriptions.

While eating right and exercising can help reduce cholesterol by 10 to 30 percent, some people's bodies just continue to make a lot of it. In these cases a statin will help—lowering cholesterol 20 to 60 percent by limiting what the liver produces and cutting risk for a fatal heart attack or stroke by 30 percent, according to Jerome Granato, M.D., medical director of the coronary care unit at Allegheny General Hospital in Philadelphia. But a healthy diet and exercise is still vital—you can't eat six slices of pizza and simply pop a pill.

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Real Woman Cholesterol Story: Deny Howeth

44, photographer, Queens, New York

Total Cholesterol Before: 207 After: 170

My mother has high cholesterol and my grandmother died of a stroke. So when told my cholesterol was high, I began to worry.

How She Lowered Her Cholesterol: I started walking regularly and made some major alterations to my diet. For nine months I ate only whole grains, beans and vegetables. I lost 13 pounds and knocked nearly 40 points off my cholesterol.

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Victoria Barbee

41, IT professional, Carmel, Indiana

Total Cholesterol Before: 230 After: 182

I was waiting for my mom to come through triple bypass surgery and my aunt said, "See what you have to look forward to?" That was enough for me to get serious about my health.

How She Lowered Her Cholesterol: I started keeping a food journal and reading food labels. I'll only buy things low in saturated fat and high in fiber. I also adopted a dog, and every day I take him for two to three 30-minute walks. In one year I went from high to low risk for heart disease.

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Tre' Tailor

46, TV and radio host, Columbia, South Carolina

Total Cholesterol Before: 200 After: 155

Extreme fatigue and dizzy spells put me in the hospital for 10 days. I was diagnosed with a low heart rate, high blood pressure and high cholesterol. Suddenly I was on four prescription drugs.

How She Lowered Her Cholesterol: I switched to low-fat cheeses and eliminated fried foods. I began exercising longer and harder. In six months my cholesterol dropped, and I cut out all my meds. I now just take a daily baby aspirin.

Originally published in the September 2009 issue of Family Circle magazine.

All content on this Web site, including medical opinion and any other health-related information, is for informational purposes only and should not be considered to be a specific diagnosis or treatment plan for any individual situation. Use of this site and the information contained herein does not create a doctor-patient relationship. Always seek the direct advice of your own doctor in connection with any questions or issues you may have regarding your own health or the health of others.

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