Understanding your cholesterol and how to manage it doesn’t have to be scary. Not all cholesterol is bad cholesterol. Your body needs a healthy amount to perform important jobs such as building cells, making hormones, or aiding in digesting fatty foods. Your liver naturally makes cholesterol needed and other forms of cholesterol come from animal food products. For example, meat, seafood, poultry, eggs, and dairy products all contain cholesterol.
What is a good cholesterol level?
Cholesterol is a waxy, fat like substance found in your blood. When your cholesterol levels are screened, a lipid panel is taken to check your cholesterol levels and triglycerides. The cholesterol in your body is measured in milligrams per deciliter (mg/dL)1.
Low-density lipoprotein (LDL) or “bad” cholesterol can lead to fatty buildups in your arteries. This increases risk for heart disease, heart attacks, or strokes.
High-density lipoprotein (HDL) or “good” cholesterol can lower your risk of heart disease and stroke.
Triglycerides are most common type of fat in your blood that your body uses for energy. The combination of high levels of triglycerides with low HDL cholesterol or high LDL cholesterol levels can increase your risk for heart attack and stroke.
Total cholesterol the total amount of cholesterol in your blood based on your HDL, LDL, and triglyceride numbers.
See below for optimal cholesterol levels for the average adult.
Optimal Cholesterol Levels
Total cholesterol - About 150 mg/dL
LDL (“bad”) cholesterol - About 100 mg/dL
HDL (“good”) cholesterol - At least 40 mg/dL in men and 50 mg/dL in women
Triglycerides - Less than 150 mg/dL
If you are concerned about your cholesterol levels or have a family history of high cholesterol, reach out to your health care provider and ask to be screened.
How do I manage my cholesterol levels?
If you have been told by a health care provider that you have high cholesterol and it needs to be treated, there are options to manage it through lifestyle changes or taking prescribed medications. There are several different types of cholesterol lowering medications that are meant to treat LDL cholesterol, heart disease, stroke, or diabetes. When taking prescribed cholesterol lowering medications, it’s important to follow your health team’s instructions carefully. Don’t stop taking these medications without consulting your health team first. Whether you are on medications to lower your cholesterol levels or not, you can still work on lowering your levels through diet and lifestyle.
Here are five tips to lower cholesterol without the use of medications:
Avoid Red Meat
Red meats are high in saturated fats which can raise LDL cholesterol levels. When you are restocking your fridge, choose leaner alternatives such as chicken, turkey, or fish, and avoid any processed meats. Fish is a great alternative because it is low in saturated fats and high in omega-3 fatty acids that can benefit heart health and boost HDL cholesterol levels.4
Eat More Soluble Fiber
Foods that are rich in soluble fiber (fiber that dissolves in water) can help with your digestive health and cardiovascular health. Soluble fiber can reduce the absorption of cholesterol in your blood stream by grabbing onto it in your gut. Foods containing soluble fiber include:
Whole Grain Bread
Try adding more soluble foods in moderation and be sure to read product labels carefully. Adding in a bunch of soluble fiber at once will disrupt your digestive system. As you add in more fiber try adding in one extra serving a day or if you are taking supplements, start with small doses once a day.
Aim for at least 150 minutes of physical activity every week and it can be broken up however you would like. For example, you can split that up into daily intervals of 20 minutes every day or 50 minutes three days a week.
Don’t be afraid to start small, such as taking walks around your neighborhood or using the stairs instead of the escalator. Adding short intervals of activity can help you begin to lose weight and help lower LDL cholesterol levels. If you are having trouble staying motivated, ask a friend to be your exercise partner or consider joining a group exercise class.
Read Food Labels
If you aren’t already in the habit of reading food labels, now would be the time to start. Reading labels is one of the easiest things you can do to control your diet. When you are reading those labels, you want to avoid products that have trans fats in them, also known as “hydrogenated oils” or “partially hydrogenated vegetable oil.”
Trans fats are commonly found in processed food items since they make it easier for manufacturers to ship and store products. They are also commonly found in baked goods that contain margarine or shortening. If you are looking to lower your cholesterol, read labels thoroughly and avoid products with trans fats.
Substitute with Healthier Oils
While cooking, it’s easy to add butter, margarine, or shortening to enhance the flavors in a dish. While butter and margarine may make the dish more delicious, they are high in saturated fats. Substituting with healthy oils such as olive oil, sunflower oil, or grapeseed oil is a better option as they are low in saturated fats and can bring new subtle flavors to some of your favorite dishes. When starting your journey to lower your cholesterol you can start with small changes. You don’t need to change your entire lifestyle overnight. Over time, your mindset will change, and you will notice positive changes taking place in your body. Find a fitness buddy to work out with, rely on your family for support, meet with your health care team to discuss health habits that fit your lifestyle.
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