Healthy eating (really) improves cholesterol levels

Many healthcare providers recommend eating well and doing regular physical exercise, in part to help control blood levels of cholesterol and triglycerides (another type of harmful blood fat). However, little research has been done to study the effects of diet on cholesterol and triglyceride levels in older adults.

Many healthcare providers recommend eating well and doing regular physical exercise, in part to help control blood levels of cholesterol and triglycerides (another type of harmful blood fat). However, little research has been done to study the effects of diet on cholesterol and triglyceride levels in older adults.

A new Australian study looked at the benefits of making dietary-fat changes in 900 adults aged 49 and older who were followed for 10 years. At the start of the study, 5 percent of the participants were taking medication for their cholesterol, usually a statin. By a decade later, that figure had jumped to one-quarter of the participants.

The study found that people who cut down on butter and other saturated fats were able to lower their total cholesterol levels, regardless of whether they were taking cholesterol-lowering medication. At the same time, HDL cholesterol levels (“good” cholesterol) increased when study participants started eating more fish and omega-3 fatty acids, a type of unsaturated fat found mainly in oily fish like salmon and mackerel. Triglyceride levels were also found to decrease in participants who included more omega-3 fatty acids in their diet. Improving dietary habits was found to be as beneficial to people on cholesterol-lowering medication as to those who were not taking any.

The benefits of healthy eating are not only cardiovascular in nature: studies suggest that omega-3 fatty acids may also help prevent dementia and age-related vision loss.

In other words, taking prescribed medication when your medical condition requires it is good, but making lifestyle changes is even better. Recommendations for improving your blood lipid profile include replacing trans and saturated fats (most notably found in butter, dairy products and meat) with unsaturated fats (such as canola and olive oil), and including at least two meals of omega-3-rich fatty fish per week into your diet.

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