Understanding cholesterol: The good, the bad and the heart healthy

Part of enjoying life means enjoying food! But learning to balance your cholesterol takes time and attention.

Food choices can affect cholesterol levels

The American Heart Association (AHA) tells us that cholesterol (also called lipid) is used by our bodies to keep us healthy. Our bodies make some of it naturally, while some comes from the food we eat.

There are two kinds of cholesterol: high-density lipoproteins (HDL) or "good cholesterol," and low-density lipoproteins (LDL) or "bad cholesterol." When your LDL gets high, it can cause plaque, or sticky deposits, to build up on the inner walls of your arteries. That buildup makes the blood vessels smaller and keeps blood from flowing like it should. This makes the chances of having a heart attack or stroke higher. HDL keeps the bad cholesterol from sticking to the walls of arteries. The higher your HDL, the better.1

Are you at risk?

High cholesterol puts you at risk for heart disease. But the good news is you can get your cholesterol under control. For some people, high cholesterol may be due to weight gain, eating foods high in saturated fat (a bad fat found in most animals, their byproducts and some plants), trans fats (trans fatty acids), or cholesterol, smoking or lack of exercise. Starting to exercise or eating a heart-healthy diet may be enough to lower their cholesterol. For some, high levels of LDL run in the family. Changing how you eat or exercise may not be enough. 2

Triglycerides, the most common fat found in the body, can also lead to heart disease. Low HDL, high LDL, and high triglycerides may speed up the fatty buildup in your arteries. And, just like cholesterol, triglycerides are affected by age, gender, family, health and lifestyle.3

For more information, visit www.heart.org

What you can do

Controlling your cholesterol may take some work. But exercising regularly and watching what you eat can help. Here are some simple tips for helping you lower your cholesterol:

  • Avoid fried and fatty foods
  • Eat more fresh vegetables and poultry
  • Steer clear of sweets and extra helpings of food
  • Follow the recommended serving size on food packaging
  • Get out and get moving!
  • Walk around the block at least three times a week
  • Find an exercise partner who will keep you motivated

And above all, take charge! Everyone's body is different, so getting your numbers down may take you more work than it does your friend. And even if your cholesterol levels are good, healthy habits will help keep them that way.

Here's how you and your doctor can help take charge of your cholesterol:

  • Talk to your doctor about your cholesterol levels and how often you should have them checked
  • If your levels are high, work with your doctor to set goals and a treatment plan to reach them
  • Keep records of your past cholesterol tests and share them with your doctors
  • Take all medicine as directed by your doctor
  • Ask your doctor about living a heart healthy lifestyle, including:
    • Weight loss
    • Healthy eating
    • Exercise
    • The best ways to help you quit smoking

For more information about cholesterol and heart healthy living, visit the American Heart Association Web site at www.heart.org

Sources

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