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Understanding High Cholesterol

Controlling Your Cholesterol

Cholesterol is a waxy substance. It travels in your blood through the blood vessels. When you have high cholesterol, it builds up in the walls of the blood vessels. This makes the vessels narrower. Blood flow decreases. You are then at greater risk for having a heart attack or a stroke.

Good and Bad Cholesterol

Lipids are fats. Blood is mostly water. Fat and water don’t mix. So our bodies need lipoproteins (lipids inside a protein shell) to carry the lipids. The protein shell carries its lipids through the bloodstream. There are two main kinds of lipoproteins:

  • LDL (low-density lipoprotein) is known as “bad cholesterol.” It mainly carries cholesterol. It delivers this cholesterol to body cells. Excess LDL cholesterol will build up in artery walls. This increases your risk for heart disease and stroke.

  • HDL (high-density lipoprotein) is known as “good cholesterol.” It is mostly a protein shell. The shell collects excess cholesterol that LDLs have left behind on blood vessel walls. That’s why high levels of HDL cholesterol can decrease your risk of heart disease and stroke.

Controlling Cholesterol Levels

Total cholesterol includes LDL and HDL cholesterol, as well as other fats in the bloodstream. If your total cholesterol is high, follow the steps below to help lower your total cholesterol level.

  • Avoid Unhealthy Fat
    It’s not enough to just cut back on foods containing cholesterol. Cut back on saturated fats and trans (also called hydrogenated) fats.

    • Saturated fat is found mainly in animal foods. Sources include meats, poultry skin, sausage, and dairy products such as cheese and butter. Cutting back on saturated fats can help lower LDL levels.

    • Trans fat is found in pastries, baked goods, some margarines, deep-fried foods, and packaged foods. This fat can raise LDL and lower HDL. Avoid trans fat as much as you can.

  • Include These Healthy Eating Habits

    • Choose seafood in place of some of your meat or poultry. Eat 8 or more ounces of seafood each week. Seafood is rich in heart healthy omega-3 fatty acids and includes fish, such as salmon, tuna, herring, trout, and tilapia, and shellfish, such as shrimp, crab, and oysters.

    • Eat more whole grains and soluble fiber (such as oat bran). These lower overall cholesterol.

    • Substitute egg whites for whole eggs.

    • The best cooking methods to capture flavor and retain nutrients without adding fat are to bake, broil, braise, roast, steam, saute, poach, grill, or stir-fry. Drain off any fat that appears during cooking.

    • Switch to skim or low-fat dairy products and limit saturated fats that are found in high-fat cheeses, whole milk, cream, butter, and ice cream.

  • Be Active

    • Choose an activity you enjoy. Walking, swimming, and riding a bike are some good ways to be active.

    • Start at a level where you feel comfortable. Increase your time and pace a little each week.

    • Work up to 30 minutes on most days. You can break this up into three 10-minute periods.

    • Remember, some activity is better than none.

    • If you haven’t been exercising regularly, start slowly. Check with your healthcare provider to make sure the exercise plan is right for you.

  • Quit Smoking

    Quitting smoking can improve your lipid levels. It also lowers your risk for heart disease and stroke.

  • Take Medication As Directed 

    Many people need medication to get their LDL levels to a safe level. Medication to lower cholesterol levels is effective and safe. (But taking medication is not a substitute for exercise or watching your diet!) Your healthcare provider can tell you whether you might benefit from a cholesterol-lowering medication.

Healthy Cholesterol Targets

These are common targets. Ask your healthcare provider for target numbers that are right for you.

Total cholesterol:Under 200

HDL: 40 or higher for men, 50 or higher for women

LDL: Under 100

Triglycerides: Under 150


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Author: StayWell Custom Communications
Last Annual Review Date: 5/15/2011
Copyright © The StayWell Company, LLC. except where otherwise noted.
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