Cholesterol 101

What Is Cholesterol?

Cholesterol is a waxy substance that is found in the blood. The liver makes necessary cholesterol that is needed to build healthy cells. When we eat animal products, such as meat, poultry and dairy products, our bodies absorb cholesterol into the bloodstream. Some types of cholesterol are better than others.

Types of Cholesterol

  • LDL cholesterol is considered “bad” cholesterol. It can build up in the arteries and cause them to harden and narrow, which decreases blood flow. Called atherosclerosis, plaque build-up increases one’s risk for heart attack and stroke, and can cause poor circulation in the hands and feet.
  • HDL cholesterol is considered “good” cholesterol because it acts like a scavenger within the body. HDL cholesterol carries bad LDL cholesterol out of the arteries and back to the liver for excretion.
  • After a meal, excess fat is stored as triglycerides until the body needs it for energy. If what is stored is not used, triglycerides can get too high, contributing to hardening arteries or pointing to other conditions, including type 2 diabetes.

Why is it Risky to Have High Cholesterol?

High levels of LDL cholesterol, low HDL cholesterol and high triglycerides can cause fat to accumulate in the arteries. This fatty buildup increases the risk of heart attack and stroke.

How Can I Lower My Cholesterol and Decrease My Risk?

  • Eat a heart healthy diet.  A heart-healthy diet rich in whole grains, fruits, vegetables, lean protein and low-fat or fat-free dairy can help you to manage your cholesterol. Additionally, foods high in fiber, such as fruits, vegetables, beans, lentils, whole grains and oatmeal can help to lower LDL cholesterol. Fiber also helps you to feel full and leaves you satisfied.

  • Look for lean ground beef (85% or higher) at the store and be sure to drain off the fat while cooking.
  • Make meals with chicken and turkey.
  • Add fruits and vegetables to each meal to provide you with essential vitamins and minerals.
  • Instead of a sandwich filled with meat and cheese, consider adding tomatoes and an avocado for vitamin C and unsaturated, healthy fats.
  • Start your day off right with a satisfying bowl of heart-healthy oatmeal with berries, walnuts and a small spoonful of brown sugar.
  • Pack carrots and hummus or peanut butter for a quick and easy healthy snack.

  • Keep a healthy weight. Almost two out three U.S. adults are overweight or have obesity. Maintaining a healthy weight can help you lower your cholesterol and lower your risk for developing heart disease and type 2 diabetes.

  • Regular physical activity. Regular physical activity is one of the best things you can do for your health. Adults need at least 150 minutes of aerobic physical activity each week. Physical activity doesn’t just mean running or the new exercise fad. Lots of things counts as physical activity – even things you have to do anyway. Gardening, cleaning the house, and doing yard work are all ways to get moving. Learn more.

  • Quit smoking. Smoking lowers your HDL cholesterol, or “good” cholesterol, especially in women. It also raises your LDL cholesterol, or “bad” cholesterol. If you need help to quit smoking, call the Kansas QuitLine at 1-800-QUIT-NOW (784-8669) or go to KSQuit.org for help.

Speak to your doctor to have your cholesterol checked. Men ages 45 to 65 and women ages 55 to 65 should have their cholesterol checked every one to two years. Younger adults should have their cholesterol checked every five years. Know your numbers and start taking steps to a healthy heart today!

For More Information, Check Out These Resources:

Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics: What is cholesterol?

American Heart Association: HDL (Good), LDL (Bad) Cholesterol and Triglycerides.

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