hands cutting lemon on a wooden board with mango and carrots

This month, controversial new cholesterol management guidelines were released in the US that greatly increased the chance that your doctor will be prescribing you a statin medication if you are at even a slightly increased risk (7.5% to be exact) for heart disease. The lifestyle guideline also lowered the threshold for saturated fat intake to 5-6% of calories, which I worry is going to have you running straight towards more low fat, processed foods.

As a dietitian, I am troubled by the guidelines as they demonstrate a lack of support of lifestyle medicine and its ability to not only reduce risk but make our immediate lives better, more energetic and well. While the medication guidelines were published in concert with an extensive lifestyle guideline, I fear that the likelihood that your physician will be prepared to thoroughly navigate lifestyle means prior to passing on the meds is slim. Simply telling patients that they should lose weight and watch saturated fat intake is not enough.

Lifestyle medicine is challenging because, unlike the passive compliance of popping a pill, changing how you eat and move require you to actively change how you live your life. You need a team to help support you – quality nutrition and fitness coaching that support you up the mountain of habit change until you are motivated and habituated enough to go it on your own.

If you are ready to make some changes, take a look at these suggestions for lowering not only your risk for heart disease but chronic disease in general. The only side effect? You are going to feel amazing. If you want to reduce your risk of high cholesterol and heart disease in a meaningful way – there are things that you can do right now to help make your body stronger and more resilient.

  1. Stop eating so many processed carbohydrate foods. Pastries, breads, cereals, granola bars and the like raise blood sugars, triglycerides and inflammation – all of these things will increase your risk for heart disease. Cut out the junk carbs, lower your risk.
  2. Add more soluble fibre-rich plant foods into your diet. Beans, intact grains like barley, old-fashioned oats and produce such as eggplant and oranges contain fibres that help to bind cholesterol and carry it out of the body. They are also key in balancing blood sugars, managing diet-induced inflammation in the process.
  3. Increase your intake of omega 3 containing foods such as salmon, herring, mackerel, hemp, flax and chia seeds. Omega 3 fats help lower blood lipids and keep inflammation at bay.
  4. Eat more fruits and vegetables. These foods, in addition to helping you manage a healthy weight and providing important fibre, also contain a wealth of directly anti-inflammatory nutrients that will help to calm inflammation, prevent damage to the arteries and lower your risk of plaques.
  5. Move your body. Exercise (aerobic and resistance) can lower your cholesterol and lower triglyceride levels. It is a positive stress on the cardiovascular system that builds resilience and makes you feel good.

Instead of shrugging off real change because taking a pill is easier, know that taking a statin to prevent heart disease is like trying to patch up a crack in an oil pipeline with bubble gum. Treat the cause, not the symptoms and you will enjoy a remarkably long and vital life.