Cholesterol and Your Health
This information is about cholesterol. It covers the risk factors of high cholesterol and ways to control it with diet and lifestyle.
What It Is and Why It’s Important
Cholesterol is a waxy, fat-like substance found in your blood. It helps carry fat through your blood vessels. Your body makes all the cholesterol you need, but you also get it in certain foods you eat.
Your total blood cholesterol level is made up of a variety of blood fats which include LDS’s (low density lipoprotein) or “bad” cholesterol and HDL’s (high density lipoprotein) or “good” cholesterol.
Some LDL’s stick to your blood vessel walls as they move through your blood stream. HDL’s remove many of these. But, if the number of LDL’s is too high, the HDL’s cannot get all of them, so your blood vessels start to narrow or become blocked. When this happens you are at risk for heart disease, a heart attack or a stroke.
The only way to know your cholesterol levels is to have them checked with a blood test.
Cholesterol goals for adults without known heart disease risks are:
Total – less than 200
HDL – 40 or higher
LDL – less than 100
Your Risk Factors
Risk factors of high cholesterol you can do something about are:
- Eating too much saturated fat and cholesterol
- Being overweight
- Not being physically active
- Other risk factors you can’t do much about are:
- Being over 55 years old
- Having a family history of high blood cholesterol
In the U.S., heart disease is the number one killer of both men and women. It is important for you to know what your cholesterol levels are and what they should be. The higher your cholesterol, the greater your risk of getting heart disease. When you have risk factors for heart disease, such as high blood pressure, diabetes or a heart attack, your doctor may set lower goals for your LDL and total cholesterol.
Controlling Your Cholesterol
Choose foods that are low in saturated fat and cholesterol. To do this, eat fewer foods that come from animals and some plants. These include:
- Milk, cheese and yogurt
- Poultry (with the skin on)
- Organ meats (such as kidney or liver)
- Butter/lard (or foods made in or with them)
- Red meat
- Shellfish (such as shrimp or crab)
- Coconut oil, palm oil, cocoa butter
Follow these tips for healthier eating:
- Choose low-fat and nonfat dairy products.
- Have less than 6 total ounces of meat, fish and poultry a day. Choose skinless poultry or fish, and limit the amount of red meat in your diet.
- Choose lean red meat instead of marbled, fatty meat. Trim or drain fat from meats when cooking.
- Eat more starch and fiber which are low in fat and cholesterol.
- Be more active. Regular exercise (such as walking) is very good for you. Even mild activities like house work and gardening can help control your cholesterol.
- Lose weight if you are overweight. Losing even a small amount of weight can help lower your cholesterol.
- Don’t smoke or be around smokers.
- Take your medicine. If you control all the risk factors you can but still have high cholesterol, your doctor may prescribe medicine to lower it. Even if you take medicine, it is still important to watch for and work at controlling the other risk factors.