How to Lower LDL Cholesterol and Prevent Atherosclerosis As Part of Your Fitness Journey

Why We Need Cholesterol


Our bodies need cholesterol to create cells and perform other functions. So, our body produces 75 to 80% of the cholesterol we need, and the other 20 to 25% comes from the foods we eat[1].


The main components of a cholesterol test are:

HDL (good cholesterol),

LDL (bad cholesterol) and



LDL Cholesterol and Heart Disease


High cholesterol typically leads to heart disease when LDL combines with other substances in the blood and forms plaque. That plaque can deposit in the arteries and cause the arteries to narrow which restricts the blood flow, especially over time (atherosclerosis). You could see how that would be a problem.


Another way is LDL (bad cholesterol) can deposit into the lining of the artery itself which could cause inflammation. That could actually promote plaque buildup and eventually promote the break off of some of that plaque, which would create a clot. That clot could lead to a heart attack. It could also lead to a stroke or peripheral artery disease.


You can’t feel it happening in your body, which is why it’s so important to know upfront. This can take years and years to develop. It could take decades for something like this to actually occur.

At iHeart Fitness, we firmly believe that a heart attack should never be this first sign of heart trouble.


Unfortunately, for millions of people, that’s exactly how they find out that there’s anything wrong. That contributes, I think, to the fact that heart disease is the #1cause of death in the United States[2].



The good news is – it’s preventable. Most forms of heart disease are preventable, and it starts by doing a couple of things.


Why You Need to Know Your Numbers


Number one, you have to know your numbers. Normal cholesterol test results are good, but specific cholesterol test results are golden. When you see your HDL, LDL and triglyceride levels yourself, you can detect red flags. That type of awareness is very empowering.


Also, it will help you identify trends over time so you can see for yourself if your HDL (good cholesterol) is trending up like it should, and the LDL and triglycerides are lowering.


One thing to keep in mind is just because your total cholesterol is normal, it doesn’t mean the HDL, LDL and triglyceride levels are normal too. It is entirely possible to have a normal total cholesterol and have high LDL (bad cholesterol).


The bad cholesterol wouldn’t necessarily be through the roof, but it would not be in that optimal range.


The second thing you can do to help prevent heart disease is to have a plan that includes raising your HDL (good cholesterol), lowering your bad cholesterol or LDL and lowering your triglycerides.


How to Lower Cholesterol

Mark Twain quote related to how to lower cholesterol. | High LDL cholesterol could lead to conditions like heart attack, stroke or peripheral artery disease. This article explains the relationship between high LDL cholesterol and heart disease, and lays the foundation teaching you why you should know your numbers, and how to lower cholesterol and atherosclerosis as part of your complete fitness journey.

A quote by Mark Twain, says Most problems cannot be solved using the same thinking that created them.’ When you apply that logic to eating, which the 20 to 25% we can control, you’d have to come up with, ‘If eating the way I eat right now has caused where I am right now, which is high cholesterol, then continuing to eat the way I eat is probably not going to solve the problem.’


The best place to start is right where you are. Take a look at the foods you eat, and look for opportunities to make healthier substitutions. HDL helps remove LDL from your blood. Look for foods that raise your HDL, and replace saturated fats with unsaturated fats.


Exercise helps raise your HDL too. Try to get at least 150 minutes of moderate intensity exercise per week.



[1] Cholesterol Overview: LDL, HDL, Triglycerides, What Cholesterol Levels Mean. (2018, March 6). Retrieved February 3, 2020, from

[2] Heart Disease Facts. (2020, June 22). Retrieved July 18, 2020, from


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3 Steps to Heart Healthy Meals Using Healthy Foods from the DASH Diet

What do you think of when you hear the term ‘heart healthy eating’? For some it conjures up images of small portions of bland, tasteless foods. Actually, that description couldn’t be further from the truth.

What Foods Are Considered Heart Healthy Foods?


Heart healthy eating stresses fruits, vegetables, whole grains, poultry (chicken, turkey, quail and hen), fish, nuts and non-tropical vegetable oils[1].

You’re actually encouraged to eat all these foods.

So before you dismiss heart healthy eating as rabbit food, close your eyes and imagine a steaming hot plate of pecan crusted salmon with baked potato wedges and sautéed green beans. Or substitute a juicy chicken breast for the salmon.

Both of those sound absolutely delicious, and yes, both of those are examples of heart healthy meals.

It’s not always what you eat. Sometimes it’s how you eat it.

And like most weight loss and maintenance programs, heart healthy eating limits sugar-sweetened foods, sugar-sweetened beverages and sodium[1].

It goes one step further by also limiting red and processed meats.

Notice I said limits, not eliminates

Is Heart Healthy Eating the Same as DASH Diet?


High blood pressure (hypertension) is one of the risk factors for heart disease, so the DASH Diet is a form of heart healthy eating with specific emphasis on sodium.

The DASH (dietary approaches to stop hypertension) Diet emphasizes fruits, vegetables, whole grains, lean meats and low-fat dairy[2]. It limits fatty meats, full-fat dairy and tropical oils. And like most weight loss and maintenance programs, the DASH Diet also limits sugar-sweetened foods, sugar-sweetened beverages and sodium.

Image from 3 steps to heart healthy meals using healthy foods from the DASH diet

Let’s face it – the best foods on any eating plan are the foods you love the most.

And the best part about heart healthy eating is that you can actually customize a heart healthy plan using the foods you love.

How to Customize Healthy Meals

Customizing your eating plan is as easy as 1, 2, 3.

1) Clarification

Get clarification on whether your doctor or healthcare provider has suggested that you

limit certain foods, or eliminate them altogether. In either case, make sure you understand why the change is necessary.

2) Information

Whether you’re told to limit or eliminate, you still need to know your numbers.

Typically, knowing your numbers refers to A1C, blood pressure, cholesterol and weight.

But the same concept applies to your total suggested daily limit for fat, sodium, sugar and added sugar.

The term ‘limit your intake’ is vague, but tracking your specific targets is actionable.

Having that tiny bit of information could absolutely change your life.

3) Modification

Modify your portions to fit within your goals.

You may be thinking the information sounds good and you’d like to give it a try, but you’re not sure where to start. The best place to start is right where you are, using the foods you love.

Once you’ve gotten clarification and information from your doctor or healthcare provider, set daily goals for fruits, vegetables, whole grains, poultry, fish, nuts and non-tropical oils.

Start by making 1 healthy substitution a day, and add to it.

For example, look for opportunities to:

  • substitute fish for meat in some meals,
  • substitute leaner cuts of meat when you do have meat, and
  • if you’re up for it, just skip meat altogether 1 day a week. Meatless Monday’s can be magnificent!

Use the same process to set limits for fat, sodium, sugar and added sugar.

And there you have it. You just customized your very own heart healthy eating plan using the foods you love!

When you build your most important muscle firstTM, your other muscles will follow.


[1] American Heart Association. (n.d.). Prevention and Treatment of High Cholesterol (Hyperlipidemia). Retrieved November 15, 2020, from

[2] DASH Diet. (n.d.). Retrieved February 26, 2021, from