Worried about cholesterol? Here are three key ways to lower it.

Worried about cholesterol? Here are three key ways to lower it.

About 1 in 5 Americans die from heart disease, and a key contributor to heart attacks and strokes is plaque buildup that can slow or stop the flow of blood in your arteries.

Having high “bad” cholesterol, known as LDL, is tied closely to that plaque buildup. That’s why getting that number down is so important to your health.

“Ways that we recommend lowering your cholesterol, I call the three pillars: diet, lifestyle and medications,” Dr. Jeffrey Ziffra, a cardiologist based at Advocate Good Samaritan Hospital in Downers Grove, IL, says. “Diet and Lifestyle are critical to lowering cholesterol even if medications are not needed.”


A diet that promotes a drop in cholesterol is either mostly plant based or the Mediterranean diet, emphasizing vegetables, fruits, whole grains, legumes, and healthy protein such as low-fat poultry, seafood and nuts. Also, it helps to limit eating sweets, sugary drinks and red meat.

“Multiple studies have documented the reduction in heart attack, stroke and death when comparing a plant based or Mediterranean diet versus the regular western diet,” Dr. Ziffra says. “Being primarily vegetarian yielded an even higher benefit. A low sodium diet has also been recommended by cardiologists for reducing death and blood pressure.”


You should adjust how many calories you eat to avoid weight gain, or to lose weight if you’re overweight or obese. More than 40% of Americans have obesity, which has been shown to cause several health problems.

Lifestyle focuses primarily on weight control and regular exercise, aiming for a healthy body mass index of 18 to 24.9,” Dr. Ziffra says. “I often tell my patients 30 minutes of aerobic exercise 5 days a week or 75 minutes a week of vigorous activity. Weight or resistance training is also critical and can help with weight control. There is no minimum amount of aerobic exercise that is not beneficial.”


Medication can be used to supplement changes to diet and lifestyle when trying to lower cholesterol. For this, the best bet is to talk to your doctor, who can use screenings to figure out what will work best for you.

Want to learn more about your risk for heart disease? Take a free online quiz to learn more.

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About the Author

Mike Riopell
Mike Riopell

Mike Riopell, health enews contributor, is a media relations coordinator with Advocate Health Care and Aurora Health Care. He previously worked as a reporter and editor covering politics and government for the Chicago Tribune, Daily Herald and Bloomington Pantagraph, among others. He enjoys bicycles, home repair, flannel shirts and being outside.