Did you know that all the cholesterol your body needs is made by your liver and is used to build cell membranes and brain and nerve tissues?
It also helps your body make hormones and bile acids that are needed for digestion. When doctors talk about serum or blood cholesterol, they’re referring to the amount of this fatty substance that’s in your blood. Dietary cholesterol is in the food you eat and is found only in animal products, like egg yolks, meat, liver and whole-milk dairy items.
The two main types of blood cholesterol are low-density lipoprotein (LDL) and high-density lipoprotein (HDL).
LDL is the bad cholesterol, for it tends to deposit itself in the arteries. The higher your LDL level, the higher your risk of heart disease. (When you visit the doctor and have your cholesterol checked, you’ll get a report with some key numbers. A desirable LDL level should be less than 130 milligams.)
HDL carries cholesterol away from the arteries and back to the liver, where it’s passed from the body. HDL also removes excess cholesterol from atherosclerotic plaques, slowing their growth. The higher your HDL, the lower your risk of heart disease. It’s the good cholesterol. (About one-third to one-fourth of blood cholesterol’s carried by HDL. A desirable HDL reading should be more than 35 milligrams.)
Overall or total cholesterol readings should be less than 200 milligrams for a desirable level. 200 to 239 is borderline high. 240 milligrams and above means high cholesterol.
Several factors can affect your LDL and HDL levels: Body weight, eating habits, exercise, heredity, and age/gender. Being overweight will bring up your LDL levels. Try to alter eating habits for healthier choices (And you don’t have to diet). Even losing just 5 to 10 pounds will help tremendously.
What type of fat’s in your food? There’s three: Saturated, Monounsaturated and polyunsaturated. Saturated raises blood cholesterol levels and includes whole milk, cheese, butter, fatty meats and some vegetable oils (coconut). Monounsaturated lowers LDL (the bad one) while preserving HDL levels (the good one). Olive and peanut oils are in this group. Polyunsaturated lowers both HDL and LDL levels and includes corn, soybean, sunflower and sesame oils, tuna, salmon, mackerel and sardines.
Staying active and exercising will also lower LDL, but your genes or heredity determines how your body makes and handles cholesterol. If high cholesterol runs in your family, consult with your doctor to get treated for any related conditions.
If you’re 20 or older, you should have your blood cholesterol level checked at least once every five years. (Blood cholesterol levels begin to go up at age 20 for both men and women, but after menopause, a woman’s LDL level goes up.)