More than 100 million Americans have high cholesterol levels, which can contribute to a wide range of health problems including stroke and heart disease. While medication can help lower your cholesterol, there are also several lifestyle tweaks you can change right now that can make a big impact on your cholesterol levels. All five of these will also impact your weight, risk for chronic disease and overall health for the better, so they're worth incorporating into your life regardless.
Here are five research-backed methods for lowering your cholesterol naturally:
Stop cutting carbs
Consuming healthy, complex carbohydrates is a great way to lower your cholesterol naturally. Soluble fiber is only found in carbohydrate foods like whole grains, fruit and starchy veggies, and it plays a major role in removing cholesterol from the body.
Research shows simply consuming 5-10g soluble fiber per day can lower your total and LDL-cholesterol between 5-11 points. Try adding a quarter-cup of chickpeas to your favorite salad and enjoying some berries with your morning plate of eggs to start reaping the benefits.
Choose your fats wisely
You may think of saturated fat and trans fat as bad for your cholesterol but not all fats are bad. Some fats actually show to lower them. Consuming more omega-3 fats found in fatty fish and flaxseed improves your "good" HDL cholesterol levels, which help prevent plaque build-up.
Poly- and monounsaturated fats found in plant foods like avocados and nuts actually reduce the "bad" cholesterol in your body. Plus, these foods also come packaged with fiber, antioxidants and phytosterols, which all assist in lowering cholesterol and protecting the body from inflammation.
Related: 10 Foods That Lower Cholesterol
Your level of physical activity can actually have a huge impact on your cholesterol readings. One major review of related studies from the UKActive Research Institute found depending on the intensity of exercise, you can both raise "good" cholesterol and lower "bad" cholesterol.
Those with elevated cholesterol are advised to exercise five times per week for more than 30 minutes each time. This activity should include a mix of moderate-intensity aerobic exercise combined with moderate to high-intensity resistance training. Those with healthy cholesterol levels can aim for less intense exercise for optimal levels—a mix of moderate-intensity aerobic exercise and low-intensity resistance training five times a week for 30 minutes or more.
Additionally, regular exercise can help you reach a healthy weight—which is another major contributor to lowering cholesterol. Win-win!
Watch your alcohol intake
The American Heart Association says if you do drink alcohol, men should consume no more than two drinks per day, and women should stop after one, as drinking too much alcohol can actually raise triglyceride levels in your blood—which are also monitored with your cholesterol levels to determine the health of your lipid profile.
The AHA also says drinking too much increases your risk for high blood pressure, stroke, heart failure and increased calorie intake—all factors that impact cholesterol levels. The one exception here may be red wine—as studies show it has some heart-healthy antioxidant power—but you should still stick to the AHA's drinking recommendations.
Related: High Cholesterol Diet Guidelines
Jump on the probiotic trend
We are loving how widely available fermented foods like kimchi, sauerkraut and kombucha have become as more research continues to highlight the importance of having a healthy gut. Not only is your microbiome responsible for improving digestion and boosting your immune system, it also can impact our cholesterol.
The good bacteria found in probiotic foods help lower cholesterol levels, while kimchi in particular, contains compounds that can actually block cholesterol from being absorbed into the bloodstream. Just be sure to watch out for salt and sugar content when buying probiotic foods, as many can be high in one or the other.