Genetics and lifestyle factors can both contribute to high cholesterol. No matter why you have it, diet changes are usually recommended to help control blood cholesterol levels. Before you dive into an ultra-restrictive eating plan, science suggests you should try a Mediterranean diet for lower cholesterol.
What is a Mediterranean diet?
If you’ve traveled to Greece, Italy, or southern Spain, you’re probably already familiar with the Mediterranean’s incredible culinary offerings. There’s a wide variation between specific regions and their dishes, but these diets are created using similar building blocks, including:
- Fresh fruits and vegetables
- Whole grains
- Healthy fats like olive oil, nuts, avocado
- Protein obtained from fish and poultry
How can a Mediterranean diet lower cholesterol?
- High cholesterol poses a huge health risk in the form of heart disease, but usually comes with no symptoms before a catastrophic event like a heart attack occurs.
- Cholesterol is divided into two types. LDL (“bad” cholesterol) can lead to arterial blockages while HDL (“good” cholesterol) helps remove excess cholesterol from arteries.
- Mediterranean diets are low in the types of food that raise LDL (red meat and processed foods that contain saturated or trans fats) and high in those that promote HDL (olive oil, whole grains, legumes, fish)
5 Steps to Eating Mediterranean
With Mediterranean diets becoming particularly buzz-worthy, there are many cookbooks and pre-designed meal plans available to help you get started. But you don’t have to sign up for a lifetime of specifically Mediterranean cuisine to get the cholesterol-lowering benefits. Following these 5 steps will have you well on your way to reaping the benefits of Mediterranean eating.
1. Plants First
Switching to a Mediterranean diet to help lower your cholesterol doesn’t mean you need to become a vegetarian, but it does involve lots of plant-based foods. This means eating main dishes that feature legumes or hearty salads that incorporate fruits, vegetables and nuts. If you’re looking to drop some pounds along with improving your cholesterol score, recent studies claim that a vegetarian diet can be up to twice as effective when it comes to weight loss.
2. Less Red Meat
You don’t have to cut out meat altogether, but where you get it from is an important part of a Mediterranean diet. Minimize your portions of meat, and replace red meat with fish, shellfish, or smaller portions of lean poultry. Fill in your daily protein requirements with other sources like nuts, legumes, and a moderate amount of dairy.
3. Add Healthy Fats
In previous decades, all fats were painted with the same “unhealthy” brush. Today we understand that mono and polyunsaturated fats play an important role in the body and help to lower LDL. Traditional Mediterranean cuisine incorporates “good” fats found in olive oil and fish, but you can also get these nutrients by adding foods like avocado, nuts, and flax seed to your meals.
4. Cut Back On Sugar
Eating more whole foods means you’ll automatically reduce your sugar intake by eating fewer processed foods. Examine your daily routine for other sources of extra sugar — soda, fruit juice, and desserts are common culprits — and reduce these food items to once-a-week consumption or reserve them for special occasions.
5. Make Eating Enjoyable
Whether you’re part of a big group or dining alone, taking time to plan and prepare meals increases the likelihood you’ll eat better. When possible, eating with others usually results in slower eating, meaning you’ll be less likely to over-eat.
More than just what you consume, a Mediterranean diet takes a holistic approach to eating; preparing fresh meals with whole foods is an enjoyable part of the day rather than a chore to be rushed through. With the added benefits that a Mediterranean diet could help to lower your cholesterol, this way of eating represents a healthy lifestyle change that will outlast any fad diet or extreme eating craze.
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