According to the CDC, almost 40% of adults in the United States have high cholesterol levels. Cholesterol in your body is made by your liver or comes from eating cholesterol-rich foods. You need cholesterol to build cells and produce certain hormones. However, too much cholesterol can cause plaque to build up in your arteries and place you at risk for stroke, high blood pressure, and heart disease.
This year’s holiday season may not involve the large gatherings of past years, but you may still want to enjoy traditional foods with close family members. Managing your cholesterol while maintaining holiday traditions is possible. Read on for ways to keep your cholesterol levels healthy during the holidays.
What Are Healthy Cholesterol Levels?
Based on guidelines by the American College of Cardiology and the American Heart Association, goals for healthy cholesterol levels are as follows:
- Total cholesterol: less than 200 milligrams per deciliter (mg/dL)
- Triglycerides: less than 150 mg/dL
- Low-density lipoproteins (LDL) or “bad cholesterol”: less than 100mg/dL
- High-density lipoproteins (HDL) or “good cholesterol”: 60 mg/dL or greater
Make Healthy Holiday Food Choices
Although holiday traditions may include an abundance of decadent foods, you can still enjoy holiday meals while keeping your cholesterol in check. Whether you are the main chef or contributing sides to the meal, here are a few tips for keeping it healthy:
- Choose low-fat cuts of meat, such as turkey breast, over meats higher in fat content, such as ham, beef, or dark poultry meat. Even better, skip the meat altogether and go for fish rich in omega-3 fatty acids, such as salmon, tuna, and trout. Foods rich in these fatty acids can help lower triglycerides and raise HDL.
- Load your plate with vegetables first. Filling up your plate with vegetables high in vitamins and fiber leaves little room for more cholesterol-heavy foods.
- Skip the creamy casseroles. Vegetable casseroles are often creamy and rich in butter. Swap the casseroles for sautéed or roasted vegetables.
- Leave out the chips. Instead of chips and dip, snack on fruits and vegetables dipped in healthy low-fat yogurt or protein-packed hummus.
- Add nuts. Since you’re forgoing the chips tray, why not also add a bowl of cholesterol-healthy nuts? Some nuts, including almonds and walnuts, are high in polyunsaturated fatty acids, which help lower your LDL.
- Choose whole-grain bread over buttery rolls or croissants. The high fiber content in whole grain bread can help reduce LDL levels.
- Substitute olive oil for butter. Saturated fat in butter can raise your cholesterol. However, oils high in omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids, such as olive oil, hemp seed oil, grapeseed oil, or sesame oil, may help lower LDL and raise HDL. Any of these oils mixed with herbs of your choice will make a delicious dip for your bread.
Don’t Forget to Exercise
The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services recommends that adults get at least 150 minutes per week of moderate aerobic activity, 75 minutes per week of intense activity, or a combination of both. Getting adequate aerobic exercise helps raise your HDL.
Although your gym may be temporarily closed due to COVID-19 precautions and the temperatures outside are dropping, you can still remain active during the holiday season.
- Hit the trails. Ski slopes may be closed, but hiking trails are still an excellent way to get your heart pumping while enjoying some fresh air and natural vitamin D from the sun. Gathering outdoors is much safer than gathering inside this year. Bundle up and take your family on a nature hike. If you go with friends who don’t live with you, be sure to wear a mask and keep your social distance.
- Take a tour of the lights. Holiday gatherings do not have to revolve around food. If you prefer a lower level of intensity from hiking, a walk around your neighborhood can provide an aerobic workout as well as a beautiful view. Wait until the sun sets and take a small group of family and friends on a tour of your neighborhood’s holiday lights. Don’t forget to wear your masks!
- Try a virtual exercise class. You can do this alone or virtually with friends and family. Connect with someone you may not see this holiday season by doing a YouTube exercise video together or joining a virtual exercise class on Airbnb.
Remember to Take Your Medications
Some people may need to take cholesterol medication to manage their cholesterol levels. If you take cholesterol medicine, changes in routines and other factors may disrupt your medication schedule. Taking your medicine is crucial to maintaining healthy lipid levels. If you need help remembering to take your medication, try the ScriptSave WellRx Medicine Chest to help you keep your medications organized.
There is no doubt that the holiday season is different this year, but keeping your heart healthy is more important than ever. No matter how you spend your holidays this year, remember to stay safe and be good to your heart.
Rosanna Sutherby is a freelance medical writer who has been a practicing pharmacist in her community for close to 20 years. She obtained her Doctor of Pharmacy from Nova Southeastern University in Ft. Lauderdale, FL. She utilizes her clinical training in the pharmacy, where she helps patients manage disease states such as asthma, diabetes, heart disease, hypertension, and many others. Dr. Sutherby reviews and recommends drug regimens based on patients’ concurrent conditions and potential drug interactions.