Are you at Risk for High Cholesterol?

Cholesterol is part of a healthy body. But having too much of it in your blood can be a problem.

It may surprise you to know that cholesterol itself isn’t bad. It is a soft, fat-like substance that your body produces naturally. It helps make new cells, some hormones and substances that help digest foods.

Cholesterol is part of a healthy body. But having too much of it in your blood can be a problem. Too much cholesterol contributes to a higher risk for cardiovascular diseases, such as heart disease and stroke.

If you’re between ages 20 and 79, you should have your cholesterol measured every four to six years. If other factors put you at higher risk for heart disease or stroke, your healthcare provider may want to check it more often. Your healthcare provider will do a blood test called a "fasting lipoprotein profile" to measure your cholesterol levels. It assesses several types of fat in the blood. It is measured in milligrams per deciliter (mg/dL). The test gives you four results: total cholesterol, LDL (bad) cholesterol, HDL (good) cholesterol and triglycerides (blood fats). The ideal total cholesterol is less than 180 mg/dL.

In addition to what your body makes, you also get cholesterol from some foods you eat. To improve your cholesterol, choose foods low in saturated and trans fats.

Saturated fats are the main dietary cause of high blood cholesterol. They are found naturally in many foods. They mostly come from animal and dairy sources, such as meat, poultry with skin, cream, butter, cheese and other dairy products made from whole or reduced-fat (2%) milk. The American Heart Association recommends that adults who would benefit from lowering LDL cholesterol limit their saturated fat intake to 5 to 6 percent of total calories each day. For a person who needs 2,000 calories a day, this is about 11 to 13 grams of saturated fat.

Trans fats can raise total and LDL (bad) cholesterol and lower HDL (good) cholesterol. Sources of trans fats include commercially baked goods, fried foods and snack foods. They’re also found in foods made with partially hydrogenated vegetable oils, vegetable shortening or stick margarine. Everyone can benefit by limiting trans fats. Reducing your trans fat intake is especially important if your doctor has said you should lower your LDL cholesterol.

In addition to reducing your intake of saturated and trans fats, physical activity is important. If you need to lower your cholesterol, aim for 40 minutes of moderate to vigorous physical activity 3 to 4 times per week. If you don’t have longer blocks of time, you can exercise in 10-minute segments.

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