Cholesterol is a word you’ve heard often relating to health. Maybe you’ve heard it’s bad to have high cholesterol; maybe your doctor has told you to monitor yours. You’ve heard it is in some foods, and you might hear LDL and HDL. But what does it all mean and why does this matter?

What is Cholesterol?

First, cholesterol itself isn’t necessarily bad. Your liver produces this waxy substance to help build cells. But too much cholesterol is terrible, building up in your bloodstream and attaching itself to the walls of your arteries. LDL is the bad cholesterol and HDL is good. High LDL cholesterol levels put you at risk for heart disease, the leading cause of death in the United States. People with high cholesterol have about twice the risk of heart disease as people with lower levels. Meanwhile, HDL can remove bad cholesterol from the bloodstream and artery walls.

Our bodies produce enough cholesterol on their own. However, we also consume extra cholesterol by eating food derived from animals, such as meat and dairy products. Eating foods high in saturated and trans fats also triggers your liver to make even more cholesterol. Oils such as palm oil, kernel oil, and coconut also cause this reaction.

Your Numbers

During your annual physical, your doctor will check your blood for many things, including cholesterol levels. Your total cholesterol is listed in milligrams per deciliter of blood (mg/dL). The number your doctor tells you is the combination of HDL, LDL, and triglycerides. For adults, 200 milligrams per deciliter (mg/dL) is a good number. If yours is 200-239, you’re considered borderline. Anything above 240 is cause for concern. About 71 million American adults, or 33 percent, have high cholesterol.

Controlling Cholesterol

Your doctor will talk to you about the best methods for managing your cholesterol depending on your numbers, family history, and other factors. He or she may recommend medication, but it’s best to live a healthier lifestyle overall. Here are five ways to lower LDL cholesterol:

  • Quit smoking. This quickly lowers your LDL.
  • Exercise most days of the week and become more physically active.Physical activity increases your good cholesterol levels.
  • Eat a balanced diet. This means decreasing your saturated fat intake and eliminating trans fats. Add whey protein to your diet and eat more soluble fiber, found in oatmeal, kidney beans, apples, pears, and Brussel sprouts. Here is more information on what to eat, and check out our cholesterol-friendly recipe below. (Link to Recipe)
  • Lose weight. While thin people can also have high cholesterol, even a few extra pounds can contribute to higher numbers.
  • Drink alcohol in moderation. If you don’t drink alcohol, don’t add it, but if you do, be sure to moderate your intake to no more than one beverage per day.

Did you know that thin people can still have high cholesterol and that children should also have their cholesterol levels checked? Read to learn some common misconceptions about cholesterol.

If you have questions about cholesterol, don’t hesitate to ask our team at Generations Family Practice!