5 easy ways to lower your cholesterol

If you're one of the 100 million Americans with high cholesterol, take heart: It is possible to lower your levels, which means less build-up of plaque in your arteries and a lower risk of heart attack and stroke. Whether or not you're currently taking medication such as a statin, there are easy, everyday tweaks to naturally lower your numbers. Here are five oh-so-simple strategies that you can start using today.

1. Fill Up on Fiber The soluble fiber found in foods like whole grains, beans and fruit can reduce the absorption of cholesterol in your bloodstream, lowering your low-density lipoprotein (LDL), which is often called "bad" cholesterol. Experts recommend eating 25 to 35 grams of fiber a day, but most Americans get just 12 grams. To up your fiber intake without much effort, consider easy swaps: Replace white rice or pasta with barley or whole-wheat pasta, swap snacks like pretzels for high-fiber fruits like apples and pears, and trade the mayo on your usual lunch sandwich for avocado, which packs a surprising 4 grams of fiber per quarter.

Trade mayo for avocado on your sandwich for added fiber that could help lower cholesterol. Trade mayo for avocado on your sandwich for added fiber that could help lower cholesterol.

2. Slip on Your Sneakers Regular exercise can give your high cholesterol levels a one-two punch: Any weight loss will lower your bad cholesterol and breaking a sweat has been shown to raise your high-density lipoprotein (HDL), or "good" cholesterol, which helps remove LDL from your arteries. You don't need to run a marathon to get those heart benefits either. Just 10 or 15 minutes of moderate walking can make a difference, according to the Cleveland Clinic. If you can work your way up to 30 minutes of activity most days, even better.

3. Call it Quits If you've been meaning to ditch your cigarette habit, consider this a bit of extra motivation: In addition to all of the damage cigarettes are doing to your lungs, smoking also raises your cholesterol and puts you at a higher risk for heart attack and stroke. Research also suggests it can create more oxidized LDL in your bloodstream, encouraging plaque build-up. The good news is that quitting can raise your good cholesterol by up to 10 percent, according to the Mayo Clinic. 

"Cook with olive oil and try to eat two servings of fish per week."

4. Focus on Good Fats You might think that lowering your cholesterol levels means banishing all fat from your diet. But there are some types of fat that can actually be good for your heart, especially if you use these monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats to replace artery-clogging saturated fats, found in foods like butter and red meat. Experts recommend that people with high cholesterol restrict their saturated fat intake to just 7 percent of their diet. To boost the heart-healthy fats in your diet, cook with olive oil and try to eat at least two servings of fish (such as salmon or mackerel) a week. Fish, along with flaxseed, walnuts and spinach, is also high in omega-3 fatty acids that can help keep your blood vessels flexible and make them more resistant to plaque buildup.

5. Enjoy One Glass a Day Wine lovers, rejoice! Research shows that moderate alcohol intake might actually help your cholesterol and lower your risk of atherosclerosis (dangerous plaque buildup that can lead to a heart attack or stroke). The key word here is moderation: Drinking too much is more likely to lead to weight gain and poor lifestyle choices that can negate these heart-healthy benefits, according to the American Heart Association. So pour yourself one glass of wine or one cocktail with dinner and really savor it. Your heart will thank you.

By following these five steps you're on your way to better health!