Cholesterol is a fatty substance (lipid), which is essential to life. It is present in the nervous tissue, brain, adrenal glands and skin and has three main functions within the body.
1- It is used in the structure of all membranes cell.
2- It is used in the production of Vitamin D as well as steroid hormones within body
3- It is used to produce bile acids which aid the digestion and absorption of fats in the diet.
Produced mainly in the liver, it is also present in saturated fats in dairy products and meat and many processed foods. Excess saturated fat in the diet increases blood cholesterol.
What your cholesterol levels should be
There are 3 main types of fats in your blood.
High-Density Lipoproteins (HDL): This “good” cholesterol takes extra cholesterol in the blood back to the liver so the body can get rid of it.
Low-Density Lipoproteins (LDL): This “bad” cholesterol in the blood builds up in the arteries. This can cause your vessels to clog up, making it hard for blood to flow.
Triglycerides: Consuming a lot of carbohydrate foods may elevate your triglyceride level and a high triglyceride level may trigger heart disease, stroke, and diabetes. The levels of these fats are measured by a blood test. The results will tell you:
Your total cholesterol level
A healthy level is below 200. If your total cholesterol is above 200, your doctor will check your HDL, LDL, and triglycerides.
Your HDL blood cholesterol level
It is the “good” cholesterol: the higher the number, the better. A healthy level is 60 and above. Talk to your doctor about treatment if your level is less than 40.
Your LDL blood cholesterol level
This is the “bad” cholesterol: the lower the number, the better. A healthy level is under 100. It is preferable to have LDL cholesterol levels below 70 if you have had a recent heart problem. Confer with your doctor about treatment if your level is 130 and above.
Your triglycerides level
A healthy level is no more than 150. Speak with your doctor about treatment if your level is 200 and above.
Total Cholesterol = Less than 200 mg/dl
LDL Cholesterol = Less than 100 mg/dl
HDL Cholesterol = Less than 60 or Women: over 50 and Men: over 40
Triglycerides = Under 150
How to lower your cholesterol with a healthy diet and exercise
Eat healthy, such as whole grains, beans, fresh fruits and vegetables. By eating a healthy low cholesterol diet you should see improvements in your blood cholesterol and triglyceride levels. Choose more fruits, vegetables, whole-grain bread, cereals, and pasta. Choose baked, skinless chicken and fish, and low-fat dairy products. Eat less fat, especially saturated fat found in whole milk, cheese, red meat and other higher fat foods. Saturated fat and, to a lesser extent, cholesterol in the foods we eat make our blood cholesterol levels go up. Choose foods high in monosaturated fats, such as olive or canola oils and nuts. Trans fatty acids, which are another form of fat in our foods, that raise LDL cholesterol and reduce HDL-cholesterol. Limit the amount of trans fatty acids that are eaten. Trans fats are found in fried foods and foods made with hydrogenated or partially hydrogenated oils such as cookies, cakes, crackers and other snack foods. There is no safe level for eating trans fatty acids so eating as few as possible is recommended.
Limit food that contains high amounts of cholesterol and saturated and polyunsaturated fats, such as beef, pork, cheese, whole milk or lard. How do you lower the amounts of these fats? Overall we recommend that you eat fewer solid fats like in shortening or stick butter and margarine or the fat on meat. Instead, substitute liquid or soft fats, such as soft tub margarine, which are unsaturated fats or “heart-healthy” fats. Oils high in monounsaturated fat, which include olive oil, canola oil, and peanut oil, seem to lower the bad cholesterol or LDL cholesterol in your blood while keeping the good cholesterol or HDL cholesterol up. Eat more low-fat foods, such as skinless chicken breasts, fish or skim milk.
As for exercise, regular physical activity throughout our lives is important. It can help raise the good HDL cholesterol and lower the bad LDL cholesterol. Regular exercise is especially important if you have high triglyceride levels. The recommendation is at least 30 minutes on most, if not all days. The physical activity does not have to be strenuous but should be moderate, such as walking, water aerobics, swimming or bicycling to prevent injuries and benefit your health. You can also break the exercise period into small segments of 10-15 minutes if you cannot do the total time all at once.
Excess weight tends to increase your LDL cholesterol levels. Losing weight, if you are overweight and have a high LDL cholesterol level, can help lower your LDL cholesterol. Weight loss may also help to lower triglyceride levels and help to raise beneficial HDL cholesterol. You do not have to lose a lot of weight in order to show results. The loss of just 5 to 10 pounds will help improve cholesterol levels. Before you begin any weight loss program, but sure to talk with your doctor.
Medicine may be needed if diet and exercise are not enough. Lowering cholesterol and triglycerides through eating healthy and physical activity is always best. But, for some people, diet and exercise are not enough so they must take medication to control their cholesterol and triglycerides. Even with medicine, it is still important to continue with healthy eating and physical activity, so that the lowest dose of drugs is used. There are several drugs available and your doctor will help you to decide which type of drug is best for you.