Cholesterol is a fat-like substance that is found in all cells of the body. It is often mistaken for only being bad, but at normal levels, it is essential to the function of the body. However, when cholesterol is too high, the fatty deposits can develop and grow in your blood vessels, potentially leading to a heart attack or stroke. High cholesterol can be genetic, but most of the time it is due to unhealthy lifestyle choices. It is important to be aware of what can be done to reduce high cholesterol or to keep cholesterol at normal levels.

Know your “bad” fats and your “good” fats.

Cholesterol is attached to proteins in your blood that are called lipoproteins. There are two types of lipoproteins: Low-density lipoprotein (LDL) and High-density lipoprotein (HDL). LDL is also known as “bad” cholesterol because this type will build up in the walls of your arteries and potentially result in a heart attack or stroke. HDL is also known as “good” cholesterol because this type picks up excess cholesterol and takes it back to your liver.

Know what to include in your diet.

Avoiding foods high in LDL, or saturated fats, will help keep cholesterol at a healthy level. These foods consist of animal products and high processed cookies, crackers, and microwave popcorn. Incorporating more foods high in HDL, or unsaturated fats, will help your cholesterol stay at a healthy level. These foods consist of olive oil, beans, legumes, whole grains, and high-fiber fruits.

Live an overall heart-healthy lifestyle.

While having a proper diet is very important in maintaining cholesterol levels, it is also important to have other habits that will help maintain cholesterol. These habits consist of exercising regularly, maintain a healthy weight, manage stress, avoid smoking, and visit your doctor regularly.

Quick Tips:

  • Swap “bad” fats for “good” fats in your daily diet (swapping out butter for olive oil)
  • Read food labels to avoid high levels of saturated fats and trans fat
  • Check your cholesterol regularly with screenings from your doctor
  • Change your lifestyle BEFORE your cholesterol gets high to avoid potential risks like a heart attack or stroke

Sources: Mayo Clinic. The Health Tip of the Week is for educational purposes only.  For additional information, consult your physician. Please feel free to copy and distribute this health resource.