Have you been avoiding fried foods and red meat, hoping to lower your cholesterol? If so, congratulations for taking care of your health, but it may be time to rethink cholesterol. Yes, high cholesterol is associated with an increased risk of heart disease, but that is only part of the story.
What is cholesterol? Cholesterol is a fatty, wax-like substance found in your blood. The cholesterol in your body comes from both the food you eat and what your body produces naturally in your liver. There are two forms of cholesterol – high-density cholesterol (HDL) and low-density cholesterol (LDL).
LDL cholesterol is associated with cardiovascular disease since it builds up along the walls of the arteries over time; LDL is commonly referred to as ‘bad cholesterol’. HDL cholesterol is often called ‘good cholesterol’ as it helps to lower your overall cholesterol numbers by cleaning up excess cholesterol in the bloodstream and taking it to the liver where it is broken down and eliminated. Higher levels of HDL are considered heart protective while higher levels of LDL increase your risk of a heart attack or stroke.
Does my body need cholesterol? The short answer is yes. Cholesterol helps to build cell membranes, make certain hormones, aid in digestion, and even synthesize vitamin D. But the amount of cholesterol needed to do these important jobs is small and can be achieved by the cholesterol made in the liver.
What can I do to control my cholesterol? Recognize that cholesterol is not a simple formula. Many factors affect your cholesterol numbers. For example, not everyone produces the same amount of cholesterol in the body and not everyone responds to dietary cholesterol in the same way. Even foods high in cholesterol such as meat, eggs, and dairy do not necessarily raise cholesterol levels in all people. This is partly due to genetics.
To help manage your cholesterol, you need to know your numbers and be tested regularly. Your doctor may recommend frequent screenings depending on your current numbers, medical history, and family medical history. To address high cholesterol or to improve HDL ‘healthy’ cholesterol, a change in nutrition, exercise, and other lifestyle choices may need to be made. It is also possible that medication may be prescribed.
Our top tips to help manage your cholesterol:
- Know your cholesterol numbers.
- Eat a diet high in fiber by choosing vegetables, fruits, and whole grains and limiting fatty meats and fried foods.
- Exercise regularly.
- If you smoke or use tobacco products, quitting could improve your cholesterol
- Be sure to see your family physician and take any prescribed medications.