Maybe you are one of millions of Americans who takes a cholesterol-lowering drug.  Or, you might be in an even larger group whose total cholesterol is considered “borderline” (hitting the high end) and your doctor has indicated there may be a future need to take one of those medications.

One in four Americans over the age of 45 takes a statin drug to lower cholesterol.  Most doctors have very few reservations about prescribing these even though there can be serious side effects.  Muscle pain and weakness are the most common adverse effects; memory loss and cognitive problems are also widely reported.  In addition, statins have also been reported to cause Type II diabetes in some patients.  Even the FDA recognizes these adverse side effects. 

New studies have shown that these drugs may not be as safe as previously thought.  Dr. David M. Diamond, a professor of psychology, molecular pharmacology and physiology at the University of South Florida, and Dr. Uffe Ravnskov, an independent health researcher and an expert in cholesterol and cardiovascular disease, critique the safety and effectiveness of statins in a paper published in the medical journal Expert Review of Clinical Pharmacology.  Diamond and Ravnskov analyzed the data in the statin trials, concluding drug makers inflated claims for statin effectiveness and minimized portrayal of the adverse effects. [2]

So, what if you could lower your cholesterol significantly without taking a prescription?  If making some simple lifestyle changes could dramatically improve your cholesterol profile, would you do it?

A few dietary modifications can improve lipid profiles in many, likely eliminating the need for cholesterol lowering medications. 

The foods we eat have a direct impact on our overall health.  Type II diabetes, for example, is known to have poor diet (excessively fatty foods, high sugar content, etc.) as one of its main causes (along with obesity).

Similarly, elevated cholesterol levels are mostly caused by what we ingest.  Foods high in fats contribute to elevated levels.

Cleaning up the dinner plate, a start toward lowering your cholesterol, begins with looking long and hard at what kind of foods we eat.

Plant-Based Diets Can Impact Cholesterol Quickly

Many people do not understand veganism.  It is the strictest form of vegetarianism in which no animal products or byproducts are ever consumed.  For a vegetarian there is no eating fish, chicken, or red meat of any kind (no flesh, in other words).  However, many vegetarians consume dairy products and eggs. 

Vegans, in comparison, eliminate all animal based foods.  This means eggs, cheese, and milk from mammals are not consumed. The simple truth is that a plant-based diet will immediately and dramatically lower cholesterol for almost anyone.  This is because few plants, fruits, and vegetables contain any fats (avocados contain healthy fats, nothing like the fats found in, say, a Big Mac). 

Adopting this eating strategy means eliminating all meat, poultry, fish, eggs, and dairy.  This may sound difficult, but there are many products to help make this an easier transition.  And these days most grocery stores carry a variety of vegetarian and vegan alternatives to meats, eggs, and dairy, so flavor and a satisfying eating experience do not have to be sacrificed. 

In addition, there are many great vegan cookbooks (such as Forks over Knives and The Happy Herbivore) that offer easy recipes to help you plan delicious meals following a plant-based diet.

Go Meatless 

A good way to begin reducing your intake of saturated fats, especially if giving up all animal products is too difficult, is to start by going “meatless” (think "Meatless Mondays”) twice a week.  On other days, eat more fish and chicken and less beef and pork.  

You can fill up by eating alternative sources of protein, such as beans, lentils, quinoa, and tofu. The extra fiber you consume will keep you full and help lower cholesterol.

Eliminate Dairy

Getting dairy products out of the diet may be harder: who doesn’t like cereal with milk?  There are, though, delicious non-dairy alternatives such as almond, cashew and soy milk, along with non-dairy cheeses and ice creams.  Non-dairy milk has a longer shelf life than cow’s milk, and it is much lower in calories.  And, you can cook with these substitutes the same as with “regular” milk.

Add Flaxseed  

Flaxseed (also called linseed) is a rich source of micronutrients, dietary fiber, manganese, and Vitamin B1.  It also contains the essential fatty acid, alpha-linolenic acid (known as ALA or omega-3).  Easy ways to get a couple of tablespoons of ground flaxseed into your daily diet include adding it to cooked oatmeal, breakfast smoothies, and baked goods.

A Smoothie a Day

Make a daily smoothie part of your healthy diet.  Use non-dairy milk or water and be sure to add frozen fruit, plenty of greens (such as spinach or kale), rice protein powder, and ground flaxseed. Choose whatever flavor combinations appeal to you and get out the blender!

Diet Change Equals Lowered Cholesterol

So, before taking a powerful drug that might carry serious health risks, make some easy diet changes.  A few simple foods in combination with exercise and a healthy lifestyle (no smoking, excessive drinking, etc.) will improve your cholesterol levels and help you feel healthier and more energetic naturally.